I have a clear memory of watching the 2013 NBA Draft on the small, old-fashioned cubic TV in the main room of my family’s rented beach house. There I was, huddled on the couch, praying to the basketball gods that the Milwaukee Bucks would select Shabazz Muhammad with the 15th overall pick. Yes, Shabazz Muhammad. Of course, the draft didn’t pan out this way, and I, along with other Bucks fans, was stuck with some lanky-ass nobody with a name I couldn’t even begin to pronounce. I hit an all-time low with my Bucks fandom, shut the TV off, and went elsewhere.
Obviously, I was wrong… so freaking wrong. And, very likely, you were too. Even if you liked the pick because you saw his “unlimited potential,” I’m going to guess that only a handful of people thought this man would actually be an All Star putting up All-Star numbers (make this man an All-Star Milwaukee), the best international player in the Association, and the future of the Bucks franchise. If you did see this coming (*cough cough liar cough*), there’s no way in hell you predicted that it would happen so quickly.
Suddenly, we’ve reached a critical juncture in the Giannis Antetokounmpo storyline. Look at it like this: We, the devout Bucks fans, are the loving, albeit critical and sometimes overly harsh, parents and Giannis is our child. Today is his graduation, and despite all odds, he’s graduating as the valedictorian.
Giannis’s selection in the draft created a massive shift in Milwaukee’s culture. Once upon a time, there existed a Bucks team that consistently fought for the eighth seed in a mediocre Eastern Conference under pressure from team owner Herb Kohl. With Giannis in the picture, this was no more. Why Kohl allowed this obvious rebuild pick to happen after years of looking to remain competitive, I don’t know. Perhaps he saw his Bucks tenure coming to an end, and wished to leave one final lasting impression on the team he’s cared for and treated so well. Then again, it could have just been a fluke. Whatever the reason, the spirit surrounding the Bucks abruptly changed, and words like “future,” “potential,” and “youth” began popping up. The marketing team in Milwaukee capitalized, creating fun mottos like “Own The Future” and popularizing the catchy nickname “Young Bucks.” Giannis Antetokounmpo was the ultimate prospect, and therefore, so were the Bucks.
This mood change was vital for a Milwaukee Bucks franchise that has not made a resounding playoff run since the 2000-2001 season. Thus, revitalized ownership, up-and-coming coaches, and determined fans gravitated towards this notion of Giannis and the Bucks being good sometime down the road. The subsequent 15-win 2013-2014 disaster was a necessary and unavoidable tank that yielded Duke superstar Jabari Parker. Then, the 2014-2015 campaign was a surprising show of how gritty veterans and inexperienced youth could combine to create a formidable basketball machine. Everyone thought they saw a glimpse of the future, and everyone wanted it now more than ever. But the future did not arrive. Milwaukee struggled in the following season, finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference standings and nowhere near making the playoffs. What went wrong?
Giannis was still the kid with potential. In the 2014-2015 season, a crazy run-like-shit defensive scheme, sensational bench unit, and newfound team chemistry propelled the Bucks to great heights. Alas, a year later, competitors began understanding the Bucks’ hyperactive defensive game plan, veterans holding down the bench strayed (RIP Dudley and Zaza), and new players did not mesh well. A team that is good and wishes to remain good cannot rely on these temporary variables. Instead, there must be a player who can will their team to win night in and night out. There must be a player who could make his teammates better by his mere presence. There must be a player who can rightfully proclaim that he’s the best player on the court at some given time and no one would deny it. This player wasn’t here for the 2015-2016 season, but now, this player has finally arrived.
Giannis Antetokounmpo currently leads his team in points (21.9), rebounds (9.0), assists (5.9), steals (2.0), blocks (2.0), and PER (26.0). There are also the hiddens: he spends time directing the offense, blocks off normally available passing lanes with his slinky arms and legs, and forces his opposition into ill-advised shots. I’m not expressing opinions as a biased win-hungry Bucks fanatic. This is simply reality. Our Gyrostepping, put-back slamming, and behind-the-back passing human Vine is no longer just show. Giannis Antetokounmpo plays with real, all-star level game. To reiterate, this is no longer the Giannis with unlimited potential; this is the Giannis with the full package – Giannis the graduate.
Graduation for Giannis means graduation for the Bucks. It was Giannis who charged Milwaukee’s culture change from one of mediocrity to one of growth and future prosperity. Today, before our eyes, Giannis is changing this now old culture of potential into one of continued, constant NBA success. The Greek Freak has already reached and surpassed his potential, and now, it’s time for him to bring the Bucks along for the journey.
There was once a student with unknown capabilities. He struggled mightily before arriving at Milwaukee’s finest private school. When he arrived, naysayers turned a blind eye to the kid, while supporters articulated their belief in “unlimited potential,” the most subtle of cop-outs ever to exist. The student made huge strides (literally) in his first few years, and everyone at school took notice. Still, he was only a sensation, not a threat. But today, this kid stands before his class on graduation day. As the rightful valedictorian, he’s eager to begin the next part of his journey. He is ready, and so are we.