Giannis Antetokounmpo says pandemic shake-up, fears make title hunt harder

Giannis: It's going to be the toughest championship you could ever win (0:42)

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo declares that the 2020 NBA championship will be the toughest one to win because of the strains of playing three months inside the bubble. (0:42)

For Giannis Antetokounmpo, leaving behind his family -- including his infant son, Liam -- for the NBA restart in Orlando, Florida, will be no easy task, but those irregular circumstances will put this year's NBA champion in a class of its own.

"I feel like a lot of people say that there's gonna be a star next to this championship," Antetokounmpo said. "I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win -- because the circumstances are really, really tough right now. So whoever wants it more is going to be able to go out there and take it."

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Antetokounmpo has shared numerous social media posts of him bonding with family, including a workout video in which he kissed his baby boy while going down for every pushup. Liam was born in February ahead of NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago.

Like several other NBA players, Antetokounmpo has concerns about health and safety, but he trusts the league's protocol for resuming action and refuses to make excuses.

"Everybody has concerns about their health," Antetokounmpo said. "Nobody wants to put themselves in risk out there, but at the end of the day, that's what the NBA chose, and we're gonna resume the games, and we've all gotta do our job. And my job is to play basketball and go out there and support my teammates and represent the city. But for sure, I think me, my teammates, my family -- especially my mom -- everybody has concerns about our health, and my health."

Ahead of the NBA suspension due to the pandemic, Milwaukee (53-12) held the league's best record. Coach Mike Budenholzer said he expects all his players to join the team for the restart but will support anyone who changes his mind during the process.

Budenholzer agrees with Antetokounmpo that this title will be as tough to win as any other in league history, as teams will be challenged to maintain focus amid the pandemic and unrest over racial injustice in the United States.

"I feel like the champion from this experience, from this season, I think is going to be more worthy and probably more special than any [other] champion," Budenholzer said.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra shared a similar mindset on how difficult this year's title run will be.

"I think this might be certainly the most worthy of all world championships in the NBA because of all the things that every team is going to have to navigate and overcome to be able to be crowned a champion," Spoelstra said Wednesday.

The Heat will lean on leadership from Jimmy Butler, Udonis Haslem and Goran Dragic to get through these unusual circumstances, Spoelstra added.

The season's daunting challenges is why Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel -- whose team was in China when political unrest broke out this fall, took the enormous emotional blow that followed the death of Kobe Bryant, has championed societal change during these troubled times in the country and has had players infected with the coronavirus -- wholeheartedly agrees with Antetokounmpo's stance.

"Our team has been through a lot this year,'' Vogel said. "And we've endured, and we've come out strong each time we've faced adversity. I don't know about other teams but if we were able to come through all of this and achieve the ultimate prize, I do think it deserves a harder-than-ordinary asterisk. If you're going to put an asterisk on it, I don't think it weakens it at all.''

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles was one player who said he was uncomfortable with the bubble concept early on. Informative meetings with the league and conversations with his wife, Renae, a professional netballer in Australia, brought comfort. His teammates Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were the first NBA players to test positive for the coronavirus in March, which ultimately halted all action, but Ingles is ready to support his team under these new conditions.

"At the start, I said I wasn't comfortable at all and obviously not knowing anything about it. We really didn't know anything," Ingles said, adding that Renae is pregnant and his son, Jacob, is immunocompromised. "If they said we were coming back in two weeks' time, there would've been no way I would've gone."

Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic said playing at a neutral site will be a unique factor to this postseason.

"When people talk about it before that it might have an asterisk in a negative way, it's going to be the same for everybody," Vucevic said. "It's not like one team is going to have an advantage compared to another team. We're all going to have the same things in there. It's going to be the same for everybody. So at the end of the day it's just going to be whoever finds the best way to do it."

Antetokounmpo was putting up career-best averages of 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game before the break, and he was in the race to win a second consecutive MVP award. He knows his leadership will be tested, but he is ready for the sacrifice to attempt to bring home Milwaukee's first championship trophy since 1971.

"I want to be one of the best players to ever play the game," he said. "I did the best job I could do trying to stay ready and trying to have my team ready for this journey that we're about to go on to leave and play games. But as I said, whoever wants it more, whoever is mentally prepared for all this, what's going on in Orlando, that's the team that's gonna come out on top."

ESPN's Nick Friedell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.