Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are perfect complements to one another. Giannis is a runaway 18-wheeler in the paint, while Middleton's smooth-as-glass jumpshot lets him score from just about anywhere. Both are excellent defensively. Both can and will rise to the occasion, depending on what it calls for. Is the opposing defense building the mythical "wall" to stop Giannis from entering the restricted area? Dish it out to Middleton and let him run off a pick into the mid-range for a stop-and-shoot bucket. Are defenders hounding Middleton on the perimeter? Let Giannis play bully-ball like few ever have.
Their playstyles are the main reason the Milwaukee Bucks find themselves with a great shot at their first title in 40 years. Yet, throughout the playoffs, one of the dominant narratives has been which of the two is the Alpha. Which guy do you want with the ball when the game is on the line? Who can take the most credit for the success of their team?
It is, in many ways, a fruitless exercise because the Bucks would not be here without both of them. Their combined skill is what makes them great, even if they're a pair of extremely talented players. But we know how these narrative things go. Once it starts, it never stops. In this particular case, the debate over who should be considered The Man in the Bucks' locker room has been embodied by one very specific metaphor: who is the Batman and who is the Robin?
Kendrick Perkins, in particular, is very fond of using that device as a means to drive the conversation. After Middleton dropped 40 last night to even up the NBA Finals at two games apiece (while Giannis had 26 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, and the block of the playoffs), Perkins once again donned his nerd hat to argue why Middleton is and always has been the Batman in their dynamic.
As a 25-year-old whose adolescence was largely defined by the release of superhero movies and its development into a multi-billion-dollar industry, I have been thinking about all this for quite some time. I get why Batman and Robin are the quickest comparison because they are the iconic superhero-sidekick duo for several generations, but it's never struck me as the right trope for Giannis and Middleton.
After some deliberation, I have come to the correct conclusion. Giannis and Middleton are not any iteration of Batman and Robin. No, they are Captain America and Thor.
Allow me to explain. I realize it is not as fun for many to argue that the two are on equal footing; part of the Batman/Robin conversation is about debating which is more important, a narrative in sports as old as time. But the Captain America/Thor comparison is too apt to simply toss aside because it doesn't include an importance narrative.
Giannis, of course, is Thor. It would obviously be weird and wouldn't work if he were Captain America, but the comparison works for more reasons than that. Both the Greek Freak and Thor are from another plane of existence in terms of their physical attributes compared to mere humans. Both can, theoretically, do their damage from a distance, but both prefer to get up close and personal. Thor could hang back and call down lightning like a literal wizard for the entirety of battles but understands both the physical and moral impact of smashing into enemies in the trenches. Giannis is capable of making a difference from a distance, but just like Thor prefers to scrap down low for maximum impact.
Middleton, meanwhile, is a jack-of-all-trades, just as Captain America is. Need a threat from long-range? Captain America will throw his boomerang shield as Middleton launches from deep. They can both do their jobs up close if they need. Both are understated personalities who grow with the size of the moment. Most importantly, both pairs become more lethal than ever when they work together. Thor and Captain America were bouncing lightning off one another in Avengers: Endgame. To a certain set of eyes, it's eerily similar to a Giannis/Middleton pick-and-roll in crunch time. Everyone knows what the end result will be. It is inevitable.
So there you have it. Giannis and Middleton are no Batman and Robin. They are Thor and Captain America, pillars of their team, most dangerous when working off one another. The MCU is better than DC, anyway.