At Least the Sadness Will Not Last Forever: On Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks

“Sadness does not last forever when we walk in the direction of that which we always desired.” – Paulo Coelho

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Last night, along with a good buddy of mine whom we’ll call Tommy (because it’s his name), I braved the polar vortex to travel the three and a half miles from my house to the Bradley Center to see the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Golden State Warriors. There was a basketball game, some things happened, and I had some thoughts.

Even though it was cold outside, the Warriors were red-hot insid… oh God, please, no, stop. Okay, okay. Anyways, this really isn’t about what happened during the game, but rather what I thought about while watching the Bucks suffer yet another blowout loss.

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I am not a Bucks fan, but growing up in Milwaukee I support the team and wish them well, especially with their upcoming fight to stay in the city. As a lifelong (20 whole years) resident of Milwaukee, I’ve seen some bad basketball. I’ve seen some really fun basketball as well (2009-10 Bucks stand up!), but mostly I’ve seen bad basketball.

The 2013-2014 Milwaukee Bucks are not a good basketball team. They aren’t even a mediocre basketball team. In fact, you might say they’re a terrible basketball team. And that’s the truth. I know it. You know it. The whole league knows it.

Through a combination of injuries and a lack of talent the Bucks have found themselves in an unfamiliar place. A mainstay in “NBA hell” (not good enough to contend for a title, but not bad enough to win the lottery), the Bucks have languished in a repeating circle of mediocrity for many years. Their mid-first round draft picks and second to third tier free-agent signings are enough to keep the team afloat. They aren’t sinking, but they aren’t swimming to shore either.

Repetitive mediocrity brings about a sort of sadness to the club. It’s a strange type of sadness, however, as there is no real hope of winning a championship, but there also isn’t the despair of drafting in the top five over and over again with no results (hi, Charlotte and Sacramento).

This brings me back to the quote at the top. “Sadness,” Paulo Coelho wrote, “does not last forever when we walk in the direction of that which we always desired.” For too long, however, the Bucks have not been walking in the direction of a championship, which is what the fans have always desired.

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Usually injuries are seen as bad luck, but this year they may have been a Godsend, a way out of NBA hell and the haze of sadness. Maybe finally the Bucks can start walking in the right direction, and the sadness will not last forever.

With injuries to numerous players leaving the roster incredibly thin, the Bucks have found themselves at the bottom of the league, but at the same time have discovered multiple sources of hope: Giannis Antetokounmpo and their 2014 first round draft pick. Giannis – something of an unknown – was their first round pick last year. Young, lanky and full of skill, he has found himself in the starting lineup due to the multitude of injuries. A source of intrigue before the season, he has quickly become a fan favorite. He still has a long way to go before becoming a star in the league, but has shown flashes of brilliance that have brought excitement and hope to the Bradley Center.

Watching him play last night, it is easy to see why people, myself included, are enamored. Sure there are times when he looks lost and just floats around on offense. (Although to be fair, the Bucks offense often devolves into Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, O.J. Mayo, or Caron Butler dribbling around for 10 seconds before hoisting an ill-fated jumper and that’s no fun for anyone.) But then, there are times like late in the 4th quarter when he grabs a rebound, and begins to rush up the court. As he does this, his eyes widen as big as they could possibly get and he looks both lost and in control at the same time. Suddenly the arena is buzzing because everyone knows that regardless of whether it works out or not, something cool is about to happen. On this occasion he galloped past Andre Iguodala, drew a defender and made a perfect pass to Larry Sanders, which should have lead to a bucket, but Sanders blew the layup. I don’t know why, but sitting in the back half of the lower bowl (shhhh, we snuck down there) I just locked in on his eyes as they grew wider and wider as he made his way up court. It was as if you could see the growth people hope to see from him taking place right in front of you. Even now, writing this hours later, I get chills thinking about that play and how one player can make you forget about everything around you when he has the ball because he might be about to do something magical.

As for their 2014 first round draft pick – which is certain to be at the top of the draft – regardless of who they select, there will be a buzz about the city at the prospects of seeing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker suit up in the home whites. Plus there is Larry Sanders and John Henson who, along with Giannis, embody potential and possibility. Of course, it may not work out, but there is at least the hope that things could be different in the next few years.

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Walking out of the arena, I began to think about the Bucks’ future, and even though they were blown out again at home and the largest cheer of the night came when Aaron Rodgers was shown on the jumbotron, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s going to be a long, rough journey, no doubt about that. The roster has a lot of issues and there will be a battle to fight to stay in Milwaukee. But, whether Herb Kohl likes it or not, for the first time in many years the Bucks are going to get out of NBA hell, and when that happens they will finally be on the (very long) road to playoff (and hopefully) title contention, which is the direction everyone always desired. At least then, we will know that the sadness will not last forever.