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One More Thing...

Some parting words.

Syndication: Milwaukee Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I did not invent the wheel, I was the crooked spoke adjacent.

When Brew Hoop came together in 2007, the timing was such that I was among the first wave of readers. The environment was one that welcomed user input, and as a foolish college student I didn’t know enough to stand back and keep quiet. I’m glad I didn’t, because the experience I’ve had with the site – as a member, a staffer, and eventually a leader – is a huge part of my life and something I’m grateful for.

My first official post at Brew Hoop was in 2009. I was 22 years old, fresh out of college and working overnights in a shipping warehouse in New Jersey to make ends meet. Writing about basketball was a hobby, something I did in my free time because I enjoyed it. Fourteen years ago, that recap of a Bucks-Cavs matchup on ESPN (which Milwaukee lost) focused on how exciting a prospect Brandon Jennings was, finding more corner threes for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and the merits a potential contract extension for Luke Ridnour.

Things have changed a lot since then.

I don’t just mean with the Milwaukee franchise as much as I mean with myself! Since starting to contribute to the site, I moved halfway across the country, got my bachelor’s degree (and the debt that comes with it), got married, moved halfway across the country again, bought a home, started a family, advanced my career, paid off those aforementioned student loans, moved halfway across the country again, and I find now that I’ve become a (mostly) fully-functioning, (relatively) well-adjusted adult person. All throughout those changes, basketball remains a constant; I play it, I watch it, I talk about it, I read about it, and I write about it.

I originally engaged with the site as a way to stay connected to my hometown basketball team. The sport wasn’t a major fixture in my family growing up in Cudahy – mine is very much a football and baseball family – but the first exposure that I can remember was the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals run. That the team fell apart almost immediately thereafter didn’t matter; when the Bucks were broadcast on UPN, with Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin on the call, I was content. It drew me in and I had no desire to move away from it even when the team was...nondescript. There was always hope, however misguided or ill-informed, and that hope anchored the entire emotional experience of my fandom.

Hope was at the root of every feeling I had while following the Bucks. I was surprised and saddened when the 2001-02 team fell apart. I was mad when Ray Allen got traded, and when Gary Payton bolted. I was excited about TJ Ford...and devastated when he got injured. I was thrilled about Michael Redd...and devastated when he got injured. I was enthralled with Andrew get the idea. But more than the major beats, I took joy in the smaller details. Jon Brockman’s trick shots. Desmond Mason’s artwork. The John Salmons experience. The horns that played when Carlos Delfino hit a three. The numerous comings and goings of Ersan Ilyasova. The potential of surefire new players like Joe Alexander, Charlie Villanueva, and Yi Jianlian. And so much more since 2013, the Giannis Antetokounmpo era that eventually led to a title but had no shortage of moments that filled in all the spaces. And those moments, big and small, all revolved around hope; this team might actually achieve something, just you wait.

Truthfully, there was a certain level of isolation to my experience. None of my family or friends in school really cared for the NBA, certainly not as much as I did. I left Wisconsin when I was 20, so I was rarely ever around people with even a passing fancy with the Bucks. My locals were always following something else. So when TrueHoop – the proto-blog started by Henry Abbott that also serves as Brew Hoop’s namesake – started featuring posts from sites like Boeder Bucks and Just Another Bucks Fan, I was drawn to these budding online communities. Shoot, I was already spending a ton of free time on the internet anyway, why not focus that time where the Bucks are? And when those two forums merged and Brew Hoop grew, both in size and in stature, I wanted to be a part of it. I’m glad I did, because it allowed me the chance to share not just my thoughts or perspectives, but that sense of hope that we all carry as fans. I am grateful to so many people who had a role in this journey, but a special tier of thanks belongs to Frank Madden for granting me a seat at the table in the first place.

I considered writing this part of my farewell address several ways. Part of me wanted to reflect on some favorite moments from my time covering the team. Another part pulled me towards the site’s archives and urged me to collect some of my own “greatest hits.” Yet another part felt that a lengthly list (and it is a long list) of all the people who were a part of the journey deserved time in the spotlight. A separate, even more arrogant part considered crowdsourcing it, and seeing what other people would write about me, on my behalf. Ultimately, none of that felt right, because ultimately...I never really felt like I did a great job leading this site.

Sure, I accomplished some positive goals, kept the site going, and there’s a number of things I am proud of, but the failures loom larger than anything else. Maybe some shots landed, but the misses stick with me. Articles that were either ill-conceived or poorly-executed. Opportunities to post an interesting question or a new way of looking at a topic. My own lack of basketball expertise hindering the truly valuable conversation that could be had about the game we’re all watching from the same perspectives. Picking when to be strict or be forgiving in matters of community moderation. And more than anything, my handling of relationships with people; staffers, partners, or readers, there are more examples than I care to admit where I managed the task poorly.

So, just like the Bucks during my formative years, I reflect on my tenure at Brew Hoop and see some wins and a ton of losses. You are your record, as they say. The fortunate angle I can take is how much I have learned from those experiences. Those lessons can be used to build good habits, to get better every day, to...hey, who let Mike Budenholzer in here?!

We cannot help ourselves. Of everything I’ve taken away from my time following the Milwaukee Bucks and managing Brew Hoop, that notion stands out in my mind. We – the universal “we” – all fall victim, sooner or later. Better judgement gives way to lesser instincts; the response we might prefer to put into the world is hijacked by a reaction that trades consideration for velocity. Fast and simple trumps deliberate and nuanced, more often than not.

We see this with the players we love to watch, and when they make decisions that we question after the fact. Giannis drives into a wall of defenders? He can’t help himself. Jrue Holiday attempts a difficult step-back after missing his last eight attempts? He can’t help himself. Khris Middleton forces up a tough midranger? He can’t help himself. But we see it with one another, too, particularly when we’re not diligently monitoring our own behavior. Have you ever posted a lengthy – and profanity-ridden – diatribe about a specific play in a meaningless game, or a minor transaction that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go? Are you prone to going tit-for-tat with another member in the forum, reiterating your original point because this other person just doesn’t get it? Sure you have, because in those moments, you can’t help yourself.

More and more, the sports media landscape is shifting in this direction, to capitalize on our inability to help ourselves. Misinformed opinions are a dime a dozen, but every retweet of a “patently ridiculous” take from some talking head (often made in bad faith) with a slick retort appended to it? Those talking heads – and their handlers – know that you can’t help yourself, and every bit of pushback or refutation drives further engagement and puts dollars in their pockets, at your expense.

I include myself in this indictment, perhaps more than anyone else. Did I really step up to fill a void and do a job worth doing, or did I feel compelled to force myself onto a platform because I wanted my voice amplified? Was my part in the conversation something that made it better, or just added to the noise? Even this section, this paragraph, this sentence, am I saying something, or just saying it to say it? It’s difficult to tell, and the answer is locked behind the mirror. Like it always is.

No matter what, though, being in a position to serve as a steward over Brew Hoop was something I take great pride in. I have seen people from this community establish themselves and grow, going on to achieve bigger and better things. This site may have missed the mark from time to time, but each and everyone of us tried. Including me.

And I’m thankful for that, the chance to try.

I would be remiss if I ignored the opportunity to call out the people who played a role in these last fourteen years. I am guaranteed to forget someone, so if you expect to see your name in these credits, please know that the omission is my failure and not yours.

First and foremost, thanks are due to my wife Jennifer. She did not just give me the space for this pursuit, but she actively encouraged and supported me all throughout. I can only hope to repay her in kind someday; she is the consummate partner. I also want to thank my sons, who aren’t old enough to really “get this” now but someday they might. They are an inspiration to me.

I also want to acknowledge the Milwaukee Bucks front office and public relations teams. Over the years, they granted our blog space alongside other, more impactful publications, and as a result we’ve had dozens of people manage to experience things they never would have otherwise.

Thank you to all the fine folks at SB Nation and Vox Media who worked to help keep the site afloat. Special tips of the cap are due to Harrison Faigen and Seth Pollack, the current and former NBA league managers.

I mentioned Frank Madden already, but thanks again to him and Alex Boeder, Brew Hoop’s patron saints. I hope you don’t mind what we did with the place.

I say “we” because I didn’t do it alone. Shout out to Adam Paris, the other half of the site’s lead role that is stepping down. We’ll always have Stars Hollow.

Not even Adam could have steered this ship with just me assisting. I’d like to thank all the contributors to Brew Hoop, past, present, and future. That list includes Van Fayaz (the new leader!), Steve von Horn, Dan Sinclair, Eric Buenning, Aron Yohannes, Kyle Carr, Riley Feldmann, Gabe Stoltz, Morgan Quinn Ross, Ari, Michael, Jackson, Andrew, JJ, Patrick, Rachael, Riley B, Dakota, Greg, Sean, Bill, and many others. We could not have done it without you.

There are a handful of people who I particularly appreciate in our little corner of sports fandom, and I want to recognize them here. Dean Maniatt, a one-time Brew Hooper whose knowledge and perspective is rivaled only by his sarcasm and wit. Kane Pitman, the paradigm of a hustler who runs the Locked On Bucks podcast while building his career with ESPN. And Eric Nehm, the most famous Brew Hoop alum and currently a premier beat writer for The Athletic. Please don’t kick me out of the group chat.

Lastly, thank you to you, dear reader. Whether you’ve commented for years or this is your first time visiting, the engine that runs this community is fueled by you.