We need to talk about Mr. Nice Guy, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last night, the Milwaukee Bucks became the first seed to lose to a play-in team.
It wasn’t Giannis’s fault. He was hurt. He still gave it his all. He always does.
And blaming Giannis isn’t fair, and takes all the credit away from Jimmy Butler for dragging the Miami Heat to the second round without Tyler Herro.
Sometimes a player will rise up and give you a David vs. Goliath moment. Baron Davis did it to Dirk Nowitzki. For my folks, Dikembe Mutombo did it to Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
But what happens next is in Giannis.
Let me explain.
Last night, a reporter named Eric Nehm of The Athletic asked Giannis if losing in the first round made this season a bust. Giannis seemed annoyed by the question, explaining that a career is a process, that you can build on a season and learn from it, even if the season is over.
He then asked Eric Nehm if failing to get promoted in a calendar year would be considered a failure for him, asking if the nine years that Michael Jordan ended without a championship were all considered failures.
I’ve seen literally thousands of people praising Giannis for this perspective, and I’m not going to say that Giannis is wrong. It’s an interesting prospect worth considering.
But I want to make a few points.
First, in sports you compete for championships in a separate season. In paperwork jobs you compete not to get fired. I appreciate the metaphor, but there’s really nowhere Eric Nehm can go besides perhaps becoming a national columnist. And that could happen five years from now, or 20 years from now. Getting Giannis to react virally is like a reporter winning a headline. You might as well have thrown the confetti in the press line the moment Giannis got emotional.
Second, it could be about what failure means to Giannis as a person. Giannis used to sell handbags and sunglasses with his brother Thanasis on the streets of Greece to help their undocumented Nigerian parents make ends meet… and now he’s on an NBA team with Thanasis and earns almost $50 million. of dollars a year. When you have a story like that, it’s hard to imagine anything feeling like a failure. The Bucks might have gone 0-82 this year, and as long as Giannis knew the sun was coming up tomorrow, it would be hard to convince him that he “failed.”
But third, and most importantly, given that Giannis incorporated Michael Jordan’s name into this… there’s a good chance that Michael Jordan would consider the nine seasons in which he didn’t win a championship a failure.
And while I don’t expect Giannis to start doing things like punching Pat Cannaughton in the face in practice, or calling GM Jon Horst fat, it wouldn’t hurt Giannis’ chances of doing the one thing every kid wears sneakers and a ball. In the 90’s I wanted to do-
Be “like Mike.”
Michael Jordan put an incredible amount of pressure on his own shoulders to be the best, and he used that to justify putting pressure on the people around him.
Giannis is a bully on the court. He is both new school and old school. He has hints of Hakeem and David Robinson in his game, but is also uniquely suited to the modern style of play.
If anyone in the NBA has earned the right to express their own vision of what the Milwaukee Bucks should be, it’s Giannis.
And maybe Giannis has a multi-season vision that’s not contained by arbitrary start and end points, but his front office sure doesn’t. Which is why they sent five draft picks to Brooklyn for a disgruntled Jae Crowder to function as their missing piece, only to have Mike Budenholzer switch rotations for the playoffs and stop playing Crowder altogether while Jimmy Butler shot SIXTY percent. from the field.
Maybe it’s okay for Giannis to continue to learn lessons from his losses at 28, but Mike Budenholzer is beyond his “loss are lessons” phase.
When there is half a second left in a tied game, and you are facing elimination, and you choose not to use one of your TWO TIMEOUTS?
Mike Budenholzer isn’t just failing, he’s sinking.
I hate to keep saying this, but even if Giannis is right about this year not being a flop, if nothing changes going forward, what are we supposed to call the wasted potential of the Greek monster?
Giannis needs to run over Budenholzer as he runs over defenders.
And if the dollars can get a coach who does the right things at the right times, then maybe this year won’t really be a flop after all.
Let that sink in.