In 2001, the Bucks lost the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games.
In 2001, Giannis Antetokounmpo was seven years old and was so poor he was sharing one pair of shoes with his siblings.
Since 2001, when the Bucks came painfully close to reaching the NBA Finals, the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series. In fact, that 15-year span without a playoff series win is the longest drought in the NBA.
A lot has gone wrong for the Bucks over these 15 years. They traded Ray Allen, and hitched their wagon to Michael Redd.
Redd was an elite shooter and scorer, but was never good enough to make the Bucks a real threat in the East. The Bucks signed Redd to a 6-year, $91 million deal, but over the course of that deal, Redd would have two catastrophic knee injuries and would never be the guy that scored 20 points per game throughout his career again.
The Bucks were fortunate enough to acquire the number one pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. Andrew Bogut was the favorite for being the first prospect chosen, and the Bucks would select him with their pick. While Bogut was and is still a solid NBA player, he was never able to impact the Bucks in a major way.
The Brandon Jennings era came and went, too.
Since then, the Bucks have been one of the worst franchises not in just the NBA, but in all of professional sports. The Bucks suffered through horrible drafts (Joe Alexander, Yi Jianlian, and Brandon Jennings, you know, just to name a few), bad coaching, injuries (T.J. Ford and Andrew Bogut), and just a complete lack of NBA talent on the roster.
Basically, the Bucks have been searching for an identity ever since the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most talented and tantalizing players in the NBA, but his talent isn’t even the most important thing he brings to the Bucks organization. After he signed a 4-year, $100 million extension, the Greek Freak has officially given the Bucks an identity. He’s given the Bucks a cornerstone.
Perhaps that’s why this deal was so important and exciting for Bucks fans and front office – Giannis is a chance at lasting success and hope.
He came into the league as the rawest of the raw, with his long limbs flying everywhere, sometimes making you fear that he would be too raw to ever develop. His rookie year he averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. By his third year, those numbers have increased: 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. His development has been steady and impressive, yet, it’s his personality that has Milwaukee so enamored the most.
He’s one of the most likable players in all of sports. You’ve probably heard some of the stories, like during his rookie year when he sent too much money to his family in Greece and didn’t have enough money for a cab ride to the Bradley Center for the Bucks game that night. He was forced to run to the Bradley Center (he would get picked up by some fans who recognized him). Perhaps you’ve heard the story when O.J. Mayo threw some old shoes out and Giannis took them out of the trash because his family wasn’t able to afford them growing up, or when he stole a cake out of the Bucks team fridge.
Before he came to America, he had never tasted a smoothie, but after experiencing one for the first time, he took to Twitter to confess his love for his newfound favorite drink. Just a few years later, it’s hard to imagine how many smoothies 100 million dollars could buy.
He’s been unaccustomed to America, and it’s refreshing to follow. It’s easy to root for him.
Giannis didn’t have any money growing up and he could’ve easily commanded more money. This summer, there were reports that he would be selected as the “designated player”, which would allow the Bucks to go over the regular dollar amount to sign him. That deal would have been around 5 years, $145 million. If Giannis wanted to milk the market, he could’ve signed a one-year deal with any team for the max after this upcoming season. Because he was a restricted free agent, the Bucks would’ve matched the offer. But, the year after, he would’ve been an unrestricted free agent and it would have put Milwaukee’s front office in a tough place. Surely, the Knicks, Heat, Lakers, and Celtics would’ve been trying to recruit Giannis to a bigger market than Milwaukee.
However, none of that matters because the Greek Freak didn’t want to go anywhere else. He even signed for less money than the max contract, reportedly to save money for the other young players, such as Jabari Parker, who will be a restricted free agent after the 2017-18 season. Giannis could have even put pressure on Jabari to sign for less, too.
Last season was rough. Things are more optimistic for the Bucks 2016-17 campaign, but Giannis and Jabari are still only 21. Truthfully, it’s hard to know what the Bucks will look like this year. Stardom and success are not easily attained in the NBA. This year could feature another frustrating Bucks season.
Even if that’s the case, the outlook for the future is much more certain with Giannis locked up for four more years. Giannis has given Milwaukee time to build a team around him, and that’s all the Bucks organization could’ve asked. For the first time in a long time, there is a guaranteed future in Milwaukee.
Photo courtesy of NBA.com.