Giannis Antetokounmpo signed his extension and Bucks fans are relieved
The homegrown star has chosen to stay in Milwaukee, continuing one of the most endearing player-fan base relationships in basketball
MILWAUKEE – Camille Davis was walking across her Milwaukee apartment to show her husband a meme on her cellphone when she was interrupted by a breaking news alert.
Davis, a grants manager at a local foundation who has been stuck working from home due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, immediately started yelling, “Yo! Yo!” while jumping up and down.
“What is wrong with you?” her husband asked.
The news she, and thousands of other Milwaukee Bucks fans, had been waiting months to hear had finally come to fruition: Giannis Antetokounmpo was staying.
All of Davis’ acrobatics now seemed more reasonable. To an extent.
“My husband told me I need to sit down [or] I’m going to twist my ankle,” she told The Undefeated.
On Tuesday, Antetokounmpo announced that he would be signing a five-year, $228 million supermax contract extension to remain with the Bucks, the richest overall deal in NBA history.
“This is my home, this is my city,” Antetokounmpo posted on social media. “I’m blessed to be able to be a part of the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 5 years. Let’s make these years count. The show goes on, let’s get it.”
The announcement of the signing not only wed Antetokounmpo to the Bucks for the next half-decade, but it also put to rest the rumors that the reigning two-time MVP would jettison Milwaukee in the summer of 2021 for more suitable superstar locations such as Miami or Los Angeles.
Bucks fans have been sitting on pins and needles for more than a year and a half – dating back to a soul-crushing defeat in the 2019 playoffs – about the future of Antetokounmpo, but now the homegrown star has chosen to stay, continuing one of the most endearing player-fan base relationships in basketball.
Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall in the 2013 draft, plucked out of obscurity as a tall and lanky teenager from Greece. Bucks fans watched him grow from the budding teenager who loved smoothies to a muscled father of a 10-month-old right before their eyes.
Milwaukeeans were along for the entire journey.
“Giannis really is Milwaukee’s little brother,” Davis, 31, said. “We’ve watched him grow.
“I still have my green and red Giannis jersey in the closet,” she added, referring to the team’s jersey colors from 2006-07 to 2013-14, when it averaged just under 32 wins per season.
Over the past seven years, Antetokounmpo has brought excitement and attention to the city of just under 600,000. Antetokounmpo has had one of the top-selling jerseys over the past few seasons. He’s been voted an All-Star in each of the past four seasons, including the last two as an All-Star captain alongside Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James as the top vote-getters. He’s the reigning two-time MVP and last season’s Defensive Player of the Year. A new arena, Fiserv Forum, was constructed just as Antetokounmpo was becoming one of the best players in the league.
But with all superstar talents in the NBA, his next contract always loomed.
When you would ask Bucks fans about their confidence in Antetokounmpo remaining in Milwaukee, they would usually give two reasons for why he’d stay:
- Giannis loves the city.
- Giannis doesn’t desire to team up with other stars.
But since that loss to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals in 2019, when the Bucks were up 2-0 over the eventual champions before dropping the series in six, the team has made numerous missteps that shook fans’ faith in Antetokounmpo staying past the summer of 2021. During the 2019 offseason, after the loss to the Raptors, the team traded away one of its best players, Malcolm Brogdon, in lieu of signing him to a more expensive contract. During the 2020 playoffs in the Orlando, Florida, bubble, the Bucks were eliminated in five games in the second round by the Miami Heat despite a second straight regular season of having the league’s best record. When free agency began last month, the team whiffed on a sign-and-trade deal for sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanović.
“Giannis gives off that homer vibe,” said Jonny Williams, a Milwaukee native now living in Los Angeles.
Williams, 28, who has been rooting for the Bucks since the Mo Williams and Michael Redd days of the early 2000s, said he was always optimistic that Antetokounmpo would stay, but his confidence briefly wavered “when the Bogdanović s— happened.”
That fear permeated throughout the city. What once felt like a sure thing was replaced with some doubt. Fans had to consider a possible future without Antetokounmpo.
“That would have been heartbreaking,” Davis said of the possibility of Antetokounmpo choosing a new home.
Those feelings were compounded by what felt like the entire country rooting against Antetokounmpo staying in Milwaukee. National media debated the different teams he could fit with. Television commentators gave every reason a star wouldn’t want to live in the Midwestern city. Photoshoppers superimposed Antetokounmpo’s face onto bodies sporting other teams’ jerseys.
“It kind of makes you angry,” said 38-year-old sales executive Terence Lever, referring to constant rumors surrounding Antetokounmpo’s then-pending free agency. “But at the end of the day, how are these small-market teams supposed to be able to compete with the big-market teams when they’re already assuming he’s gone?”
Antetokounmpo’s departure could have also been devastating for local businesses. A Harvard economics professor estimated that during the years James spent in Cleveland, employment at restaurants and bars within one mile of the Cavaliers’ arena increased by 24%.
Just like James, Antetokounmpo affects foot traffic near Fiserv Forum during the season. During Antetokounmpo’s rookie season in 2013-14, the Bucks ranked 28th in the league in attendance percentage. Last season, pre-Walt Disney World Resort, they ranked fifth.
If Antetokounmpo were to have left town, businesses located near the Fiserv Forum would have likely seen a drop in customers.
“I think the city would’ve seen a real dip in a lot of revenue, as a whole, especially with the city putting so much money into the Deer District,” said Old German Beer Hall general manager Van Walker, referring to the mixed-use development right outside of the Bucks arena.
“The Bucks have always brought a lot of business to us. But I have noticed since the Bucks were good the last couple of years that we did see an uptick in business.”
And this wasn’t the first time Bucks fans faced the possibility of a bona fide superstar deciding to leave town. After six seasons – and one NBA championship, in 1971 – three-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar demanded a trade from Milwaukee after the 1974-75 season due to the team’s lack of competition and his desire to play in a larger television market.
After dealing Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers for a collection of players, Milwaukee won 40 or more games just once over the next four seasons. The team averaged 57 wins per season with Abdul-Jabbar from 1969-70 to 1974-75.
Charles “Chuck” Hardrick, 74, a retired former assembly worker, has been a Bucks fan since the franchise’s inaugural season in 1968.
Hardrick, who has refereed high school basketball in the state for 40 years, finds similarities in the contractual sagas of Abdul-Jabbar and Antetokounmpo.
“I didn’t like it. I was sad about it,” Hardrick said of Abdul-Jabbar’s trade. “I didn’t think we could replace him, even with the number of players we got.”
And that turned out to be pretty true, right?
“Yes,” he said with a laugh.
With Antetokounmpo wrapped up for at least the next five years, attention now turns to the cloud that’s been hovering over him and the team’s collective heads the past two seasons: a championship.
Despite the losses of Brogdon and reserve guard George Hill, the current Bucks roster is the best it’s been in many years. Outside of the trio of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, they return Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo and also newcomers D.J. Augustin, Torrey Craig and Bobby Portis.
Now comes the task of making all the parts fit together to compete for a title.
Fans are, to put it mildly, bullish.
“Within the next six years, I’m pretty sure we can possibly get it done,” said Williams.
“The question will be how many times.”