The Greek legend of Icarus is an old story, with a simple lesson. Trapped on the isle of Crete, Icarus and his father Daedalus dared to escape the Labyrinth, a maze build by Daedalus himself. By combining feathers, wax, and their wits, the pair built two sets of wings with which they would take to the air and leave the Labyrinth behind. Icarus, young and impetuous, was overcome by both the cleverness of the invention and the prospect of flying, and he did not heed his father’s warning. Icarus flew too close to the sun and got burned, not from the heat but from his own arrogance.
His ego enticed him to revel in the accomplishments in the past. His pride fooled him into looking ahead at what he might do next. Humility, not hubris, would have spared Icarus from falling into the sea. Thankfully, the Milwaukee Bucks have a Greek legend of their own, and they’re on track to write a different ending to their story.
“When you focus on the past, that’s your ego.” pic.twitter.com/XKiRMA8Ux2— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 17, 2021
Over the past three years, the Bucks have tested their wings, and failed. Head coach Mike Budenholzer plays the role of master craftsman, writing the blueprints and building the team’s strategy. General manager Jon Horst and the front office have gathered the supplies, and the fruits of their combined labors were enough to get off the ground and take the team airborne. Nevertheless, the designs had flaws, and those flaws were exposed when Milwaukee attempted to ascend. Against the Toronto Raptors, they flew too low and the wings grew heavy with the weight of the moment. Against the Miami Heat, they flew too high and melted down prematurely.
This time, it’s different.
Rehashing the complaints of the past is necessary to understand where we are now. It is not a critique or a complaint, but merely a statement of fact. The Bucks were a surprise addition to the list of favorites in 2019, but after earning the best record in the league it was agreed that they had the best shot at a title. They fell short. Ditto for 2020, a campaign which was completely upended by the initial chaos wrought by COVID-19, and the resumed season and playoffs were further interrupted by widespread social unrest that the Bucks themselves took a stance on. Both times, Milwaukee was the best team in the regular season, and in the postseason…they weren’t.
The disappointments Milwaukee endured over the last two years were failures in their own right, but with the Bucks now leading the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals, three games to two, it becomes clear that the last two years were more than that. They were a forge, a massive furnace in Daedalus’ workshop that took in the Bucks’ resolve and hardened it like steel. Rather than flying on the fragile contraptions of yesteryear, Milwaukee soars to new heights on the wings of determination, resourcefulness, and grit. In the past, the Bucks crumbled under the pressure, unable to withstand the burden of expectations.
But now? Fly as high as you dare, boys, these Suns can’t stop you.
Of course, as a sunset still casts light, so too do the Suns. They have bent but not yet broken, flickered but not yet died out. Milwaukee is well-acquainted with our hometown Greek myth, but Phoenix is named after one. In the smoldering ashes of Game 5, a tight contest that deflated the hopes of all but the most ardent and steadfast Suns fans, something may yet stir. Will Phoenix rise from the remains of its prior form, and swoop into Game 6 in Milwaukee with renewed vigor? The safe bet is “yes.” It may have taken 50 years for Milwaukee to claim another championship, but Phoenix has none in their history and will play with the urgency of a group that wants desperately to change that fact.
The Bucks cannot give up, because the Suns won’t. Soon, we’ll know who wins this battle of wills, and who ends up with a trophy to show for it.