Editor’s note: A while back, we checked up on the Brew Hoop community, and specifically asked how you felt about the tone our writing and the comments section has taken over the past year or so.
We are a basketball website, and we will remain a basketball website. At the same time, when current events, politics, and social movements overlap with our sport, our team, and our city, so too do they overlap with our conversations on this basketball website.
A number of people responded that they still wanted us to focus on basketball; consider this fair warning that this article will not focus on basketball. As always, we welcome your feedback, by contact form or via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mitchell: It’s an understatement to call 2020 an “eventful year.” Outside of their basketball performance, the Milwaukee Bucks found themselves at the crossroads of professional sports, social unrest, racial injustice, and a historic election, all under the cloud of a global pandemic. I think that one way to phrase it that everyone will agree with is simply to say this: it was a lot.
A story that flew under the radar was how the Bucks moved on from George Hill, who now plays with the Oklahoma City Thunder after being sent out in the trade that brought back Jrue Holiday. But beyond the backcourt depth and steady shooting, trading Hill took his leadership away from the Bucks’ locker room, where he was well-liked and sparked (along with Sterling Brown) the now-famous wildcat strike in the Orlando bubble. Since then, Hill shared his thoughts on the Bucks and the circumstances surrounding his departure...though you can be forgiven if you missed it, since Mark Spears’ story on The Undefeated published on January 6, when most people’s attention had been pulled elsewhere.
Hill’s comments to Spears were surprising; the 12-year veteran had already played for six different teams and was traded midseason twice, so he’s been around the block. But Hill expressed doubt that the move was strictly driven by on-court motivations.
How did you take being traded from the Bucks to the Thunder on Nov. 23 after everything you did there on and off the court?
When you do stuff that ruffles feathers and is outside the norm, you got to know there is going to be some backlash with it. I prepared myself that summer for me probably not being there. People thought I was probably crazy for thinking that. But I’m human. It is what it is. We’ve seen that many times.
We saw Colin Kaepernick [kneel] for what he believed and they tried to destroy his life. I was going to accept that with open arms if I wasn’t going to be able to go play for Milwaukee again. No disrespect to them. They did what they thought was right for the organization.
Do you think the Bucks trading you was simply a basketball move or more than that?
We will never know, right? It ain’t me to speak upon that if it is more. If it’s more than basketball, then they will live with that. If it wasn’t … we’ll never know. I’m sure they won’t flat-out come out and say it. So, it doesn’t really matter.
The team did not make a statement in response to Hill’s interview, and it’s difficult to imagine what they would gain by responding at all. The general assumption among fans was that Hill was incorrect to accuse the franchise, implied or otherwise, of trading him as a result of his choices to speak out and take action on matters that are important to him. There is an interpretation where Hill’s stance makes more sense and takes his lifelong perspective as a Black man more into consideration, but the realities of the Bucks’ roster-building efforts made Hill a necessary sacrifice; sending his contract elsewhere was the clearest path to acquiring Jrue Holiday, who has already made a difference in Milwaukee.
So it was already an eyebrow-raising story, but one without any further action pending from any of the involved parties. Then, TrueHoop chimed in.
Dear Bucks fans reacting to this without reading the story: I hope you'll read. If you can't afford to, let me know. I'll send it to you.— Henry Abbott (@TrueHoop) January 25, 2021
More importantly: do you--people who weren't in the room--really think you know better than George Hill how the Bucks work?
For anyone who is not aware, the similarity in names is more than just coincidence. Brew Hoop (in at least some small part) owes its existence to True Hoop. Henry Abbott, the network’s founder, was one of NBA media’s earliest bloggers, and his sub-section under the ESPN umbrella served as a hub for fans to get a rundown of all the content that was being generated outside of the traditional media environment. Abbott later ran ESPN’s NBA coverage, and recently re-founded TrueHoop as an independent media organization. True Hoop was how many of us – including myself – first found out that Brew Hoop existed.
So what gives?
At this point, if you haven’t read the post, we recommend you do that now. If you don’t have access, take Henry up on his offer. Many fans responded to the initial post without reading beyond the headline, and more still responded only after going through the preview, not the entire article.
Kyle: Henry Abbott‘s post raises a number of questions. The first, and biggest: what exactly was the point of the article? What the role of the Milwaukee Bucks owners – and the Bucks as a business – is, and how they impact its involvement in the community? The Milwaukee Bucks jersey and the now-sudden comparison to the Thin Blue Line flag? I think part of the problem with the article is that there’s not really a clear focus it feels scattered to the point and misses the mark, and I don’t know what the mark is. That said, here are a few specific points that I struggled with:
George Hill as clickbait
One thing Abbott features but doesn’t highlight is George Hill’s commentary; how he talks about George Hill is my biggest issue. It appears as though the article uses George Hill as a way to garner attention on the larger theme (which I am still struggling with), making it more or less clickbait. He includes Hill’s comments to The Undefeated and gives the illusion there’s more to it, but he doesn’t really talk about George Hill. The article mentions Hill’s involvement with the Bucks and speaking out against police brutality, but if the reader was going in expecting to learn something new, that’s not the case. Hill still has some thoughts that maybe he was traded for his role in the strike this past summer. I’ve already talked about it, but I don’t believe George was traded it because he protested; the Milwaukee Bucks stood by him. They even had him out canvassing in Milwaukee neighborhoods, promoting voting in the November election. Overall, I can’t find a reason to include Hill as the apparent centerpiece, only to have him become a footnote in the story.
The Bucks’ Black Jersey and “Back The Blue”
Maybe people are trying to make up for lost time, or want to poke holes for the sake of poking holes, but the first question that went through my head when the Thin Blue Line is mentioned was this: why was this not been brought up years ago? The Milwaukee Bucks have had this blue line on their jerseys for years; it was on the Cream City jersey back in 2017-18 season, and then returned in the 2019-20 season on the black jersey we know and tolerate today. With the black jersey, the blue line is admittedly more prominent than on the cream jersey. As Abbott mentions, Milwaukee had always been hellbent on blue being a color for their jerseys since the new ownership group rebranded the team. I don’t want to say people are nitpicking, but creating this association between the Bucks and the Blue Lives Matter movement is bordering on creating a narrative that doesn’t exist.
Now, could anyone within the Bucks organization have paused for a moment, and seen how keeping a thin blue line on their jersey could create issues? Yes, absolutely. That doesn’t mean that the Milwaukee Bucks are secretly showing support for a white supremacist group. Perhaps it shows that the Milwaukee Bucks don’t have Black people or other People of Color involved enough in design or the decision-making process.
The working relationship between the Bucks and law enforcement
Sports owners are going to have a different relationship with police groups than the rest of us. They will be called out, too, like with the incident involving Sterling Brown and Milwaukee Police in January 2018. At the same time, the NBA is still a business that has needs for its form of security. Could Milwaukee have cut its ties to local police? Yes, but it would be potentially the first team in American professional sports to do so. That would also end up with them hiring a private security firm, which is likely not going to be better than the police itself and a private firm isn’t accountable the same way a government agency is. The Milwaukee Bucks are still going to do things to keep a cordial relationship with the police and demonstrate reaching across the aisle.
The Milwaukee Bucks owners have a proven track record of standing by the players and supporting them, but it’s not to say that Milwaukee is going to suddenly not have ties with the police especially considering they are situation of Milwaukee Bucks as a business. The business still have sponsors and the sponsors are going to want involvement in some way shape or form so you can’t automatically cut those ties at the risk of the sponsors that you have this is still the situation. It’s not ideal but that’s how business rely on other’s contributions, especially as ticket and concession revenue are non-existent in the midst of a pandemic. Considering how Lasry and Edens profited off of pensions like police unions in their non-basketball business, there’s always going to be overlap and that overlap will then introduce complexity. Ideally, yes, you can make the intentions and business model very clear, but that rarely happens.
LED and Allyship
Our own Riley Feldmann wrote a profile on Lasry that I would recommend reading. A thing we have to remember that the Milwaukee Bucks owners are billionaires that did not grow up in Wisconsin. They are capitalists that came in, saw a business opportunity to buy low on a franchise at a low value, and while they thankfully kept the Bucks in Milwaukee, they never had to do that...and now this team is worth over $1 billion.
We also have to remember the reality of this arrangement: this is a group of rich White (mostly) people profiting off a labor force that is majority Black, and only one of those groups will net a profit if they decide to cash out and walk away. Still, this doesn’t mean that the Milwaukee Bucks owners can’t call things out and also be on the side of trying to “reach across the aisle.” While I may not agree with that idea, I get the standpoint of those owners; the business is still an asset that they have to protect. But I think it also raises a question regarding the wider allyship we’ve seen in the past almost year now, how White people are trying harder to be allies to communities of color. Obviously there’s going to be some flaws, and there isn’t one exact way of doing it or of showing it. I am not saying that the lockbox owners are not caring about Black people, but lockbox owners are also people that are interested in remaining within the good graces of law enforcement.
Again, what exactly was the goal?
Overall, Abbott does lay out the parallel events between the Bucks’ social messaging and their business activities, including the emergence of the Thin Blue Line with the Milwaukee Bucks’ jersey situation, and their consistent relationship with law enforcement. The potential association with “Blue Lives Matter” is something I don’t think LED would have expected, but as previously mentioned, there absolutely could have been more conversation with the recent Statement Jersey.
But some of the points Abbott tries to mention doesn’t seem to do much more than just act as devil’s advocate, and they open up a rabbit hole that Bucks fans may not have yet diven into. What about the Houston Rockets, who have an owner who has ties to Donald Trump? (TrueHoop has covered that.) Or what about the Orlando Magic, who have an arena and ownership group that includes former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, from that same Trump administration? (TrueHoop has covered that, too.) Abbott has done some fantastic work in these spaces...but it feels like this one doesn’t meet that standard.
The biggest thing that I took away from this article is that there is an undeniably gray area when it comes to billionaires, allyship, and professional sports...and there probably always will be. It’s the reason why you can’t simply “stick to sports,” because there’s politics involved in sports every single time. There isn’t going to be an ownership group of any professional sports team that is 100% “woke” progressive. Because these are still billionaires who care about their bottom line and the best you will get is having progressive beliefs...while still compromising with the other side.
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