Bucks fans were — make that are — frustrated. They watched their No.1 seed team blow double-digit fourth quarter leads in back-to-back playoff games and get eliminated. Their team, with the supposed best player on the planet and the easier path that had them penciled in for the Eastern Conference Finals, was knocked out by a team that had to come back in the fourth quarter against the Bulls in the Play-In even to be there. What was the point of the first 82 games if Milwaukee couldn’t carry that over to the postseason?
That led to a reporter asking Giannis Antetokounmpo if this season was a failure for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo didn’t like the question and thoughtfully responded as to why.
“Michael Jordan played 15 years, won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure?"
Giannis on the Bucks 2022-2023 season pic.twitter.com/0l69MKazCF
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 27, 2023
“There’s always steps to it. You know, Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championship, the other nine years was a failure? That’s what you’re telling me?…
“It’s an old question. There’s no failure in sports. You know, there’s good days, bad days. Some days some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that’s what sports about. You don’t always win, some other other team’s gonna win. And this year somebody else is gonna win. Simple as that. We’re gonna come back next year, try to be better try to build good habits, try to play better, not have a 10 days stretch with [we] play bad basketball, you know, and hopefully we can win a championship. So 50 years from 1971 to 2021 that we didn’t win a championship, it was 50 years of failures? No, it was not. It was steps to it, you know, and we were able to win one.”
Some thoughts on this rant:
• Jordan may not have been the best example for Antetokounmpo to use, with his hyper-competitiveness he probably did see those nine seasons as a failure. Or he tells that story now. At the time, he said “I’m just a human being.”
So what did Michael Jordan say when his title runs ended early — in 1995, 1990 and 1989?
Here's 1995, the day after the Bulls lost in the East Semis.
"The way some people were praising me it was like I was some religious cult … I'm just a human being."
(✍️ @chicagotribune) pic.twitter.com/SOotqwSq41
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 27, 2023
• There are degrees to things. This would have been a silly question if Milwaukee had made the Eastern Conference Finals and lost in six or seven games to Boston (or Philadephia, or whomever). But falling to a No. 8 seed in the first round is another level of disappointment.
• I largely agree with Antetokounmpo — the “ringzzzz” culture is bad for sports. The binary idea that you win it all or you failed obscures the beauty and joy of the journey, of improvement and growth, that there can be nobility even when falling short. There is more to a team, more to a player’s career than a ring count, and more to a legacy than that (and we obsess over legacy too much, too). As an easy example, Kobe Bryant may have been as ring-driven as any player in league history, but the arc of his story and career, his growth and evolution as a person, is so much more than a resume line on rings won. As fans we can get caught up in narratives and results and miss the beauty of it all, the joy of fandom. This is nothing Zach Lowe didn’t say better so long ago he was working at Grantland, It all remains true.
• The better, bigger questions about the future of the Bucks involve if Mike Budenholzer remains as coach. Or if he should.