By Douglas Farmer —
Rarely can one see a paradigm shift in real time. Only once the reality has been altered is the difference apparent.
Unless, that is, the change-inducing dynamic is in one’s own backyard, developing on a nightly basis and forcing an entire industry to pay attention.
Perhaps Milwaukee isn’t inherently the Coulee Region’s backyard, but there are undoubtedly more Bucks fans in the area than Minnesota Timberwolves aficionados. Even more so, though, the area is filled with those indifferent to professional basketball.
Partly due to their lack of success, partly due to their counterparts’ relative history, the Bucks trail the Brewers and the Packers in devoted fans both here and throughout the state. As much as that may pain a basketball addict, it is understandable and even sensible.
It is time for that to change. It is time for it to change fast.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is all of 23 years old, and, for obvious reasons, he will be referred to simply as “Giannis” for the rest of this piece. When he was drafted four years ago, ESPN’s analysts thought he would go by “Bo,” shortening that albatross of a last name to the final syllable.
“Giannis” is more fitting, exotic yet attainable, unique yet engaging, inducing a smile all on its own.
Modestly, he is listed at 6-foot-11 with an even 7-foot wingspan. That is a large part of what attracted the Bucks’ eyes in the first place. Since then, he has improved by leaps and bounds—literally and figuratively. Through this year’s first 22 games, Giannis was averaging 29.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Excluding in-season acquisition point guard Eric Bledsoe’s average of 1.9 steals, Giannis leads the Bucks in every single one of those categories.
To the basketball illiterate, let’s simplify this: That’s rare. Exactly 10 players in NBA history have averaged 30 points and 10 rebounds per game for an entire season. Before Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook pulled it off last year, it had not been done since 1990.
Giannis is single-handedly raising the Bucks from an inconsistent team with baffling tendencies to an Eastern Conference contender oh-so-close to putting it all together.
This may not last. No, that is not saying Giannis will inevitably slow down this season. If anything, expect his numbers to find even greater efficiency with Bledsoe’s continued influence.
Rather, that is saying Giannis may not be in Milwaukee long enough for the area fans to focus on Aaron Rodgers before recognizing this basketball brilliance. Before last season, Giannis signed a $100 million, four-year deal that is the best bargain in the league at this point. Come the 2021 offseason, he will be an unrestricted free agent.
What Giannis does then depends as much on the Bucks as it does on the native Greek. Giannis professes to love Milwaukee, but that may not be enough to trump the chaos devolving from an organization with an ownership structure publicly at odds much of this past offseason. With two dozen more stable environments available, criticizing Giannis for finding one of those would be a harsh reaction. NBA teams are already reportedly looking at their books for the three years from now, figuring out how to best position themselves to sign Giannis should he leave Milwaukee.
Spend the winter watching the hardwood. The Greek Freak needs all of three steps to race the length of the court. He contorts around defenders in the lane with body control seemingly unnatural for such size. All the while, his enthusiasm mirrors 7-year-olds everywhere.
Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.