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The Bucks’ impact off the court in 2020 will be important forever

Their strike in the NBA playoffs is far more important than any wins on the court.

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To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

The Milwaukee Bucks ended their journey earlier than they intended. After losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games, the litany of questions that had been slowly simmering for months suddenly boiled over. Now, today, and every day for the foreseeable future, the very concept of the Milwaukee Bucks as a team is under scrutiny (and rightfully so!), in order to better prepare for another run at glory next year.

“There’s always next year,” goes the annual refrain for 29 NBA teams. Success in the world today has a barometer, and in basketball it’s the ownership of the Larry O’Brien trophy. Winning games, achieving accolades, and setting records is appreciated, sure. And the Bucks have certainly found success in those regards...but it don’t mean a thing without the ring.

At least, that’s how fans judge the outcome of a season. Whether or not you trust the process, you should always trust the results, right? That may be true for us, given our vantage point on the outside. But inside the locker room, success might take many forms. And inside the Bucks locker room, they transformed teamwork into something more: brotherhood.

The 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks were already more closely-knit than most teams. Part of that is the literal family ties on the roster; brothers Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo and twin brothers Brook and Robin Lopez made up nearly one-third of the roster. But what’s more is the deep-seated relationships that helped create the environment that the Bucks had this year. Giannis and Khris Middleton both joined the franchise in 2013, and fought to move the team out of the NBA’s doldrums. Middleton and Eric Bledsoe also developed a close friendship that we only caught glimpses of. But nowhere was the Bucks’ brotherhood more evident when George Hill and Sterling Brown decided to go on strike for a playoff game, and they were immediately and unconditionally supported by the entire roster.

The strike was a statement that was needed, and while it has not yet driven the results that our society deserves, the most notable aspect of the team’s decision is not necessarily what was said, but what was unsaid.

At no point was there any question whether or not the team would support George and Sterling. There was no heated debate about whether the strike was the right thing to do, or if sacrificing a playoff game (the Bucks intended to forfeit) was worth it, or if more planning was needed. It was bigger than basketball, and every single person knew it, including the league’s (presumptive) two-time Most Valuable Player.

“As I said to George, I’m proud of him,” Antetokounmpo said. “I love him. He’s my brother. Ten, 20 years from now, we’re going to be at barbecues together. I sent him a text when everything slowed down because I knew he was down. I knew he wasn’t, his mind wasn’t in the right space.

“I told him, ‘Don’t you second guess. Don’t you ever forget what you did. This is big, man. Just being a part of it and when I saw you lead the team and doing the right thing and saying you’re not playing because you want things to be right. That’s who I want to be when I grow up. That’s why I followed you. I love you. And I’m happy for you. And I’m happy that we’re on the same team, man.’”

Can you, off the top of your head, remember who won the NBA Finals 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Some sports fans could recite the list by heart, especially if their hometown team was the one to take home the hardware. But can you remember which team was the first to decide that enough was enough, that a bigger statement needed to be made to bring greater awareness and prompt action that seeks to right the wrongs of our society? Which team that was unified in broadcasting the message that needed to be broadcast, and brought the entire sports world to a halt for a day?

The 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks will not be remembered for their victories in basketball. That story is still being written, and this team will undergo changes before they get a chance to try again. But the 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks will be remembered as a team that got up to their own version of good trouble, and it wasn’t the extra practices or late-night shooting sessions or additional weight work that got them there.

It was the strength of their bond to one another, their unshakable brotherhood. When we talk about teamwork, it’s not just chemistry on the court. It’s about the real-life relationships between people who were brought together to achieve a common goal...and ended up achieving something greater.

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