With his Milwaukee Bucks at home for the second round of the playoffs and his name absent from the NBA's All-Defensive teams, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a message. He's "tired of the disrespect."
His words, delivered Tuesday via Twitter alongside a photo of his glaring self engulfed in Bucks green with a vow: "I'm coming."
I’m tired of the disrespect. I’m coming. pic.twitter.com/eMRPb6kbLJ
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) May 9, 2023
That's it. There's no context. No quote. No link to a critical story. No explanation of whom or what he's coming for. While the specific target of the message is left open for interpretation, the broad strokes are clear.
Antetokounmpo is stocking up on motivational fuel.
Take, for instance, Tuesday's announcement of the NBA's All-Defensive teams that featured big men Jaren Jackson Jr., Evan Mobley, Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green and Bucks teammate Brook Lopez. But no Antetokounmpo, a former Defensive Player of the Year and five-time All-Defensive team member.
Antetokounmpo — in the prime of his career and coming off an MVP finalist season — remains an elite NBA defender. But his absence from the NBA's All-Defensive teams was not glaring. While he was an anchor for a Bucks unit that led the NBA in defensive rating, he also averaged career lows in both blocks (0.8) and steals (0.8) per game.
Lopez, meanwhile, led the league in total blocks, and voters acknowledged Milwaukee's defensive dominance by naming him and point guard Jrue Holiday to the All-Defensive teams. That they found other big men around the league more deserving than Antetokounmpo is a potential perceived slight but not an actual one.
Tuesday's was not the first postseason awards snub that could fuel Antetokounmpo's fire. While he was honored as an MVP finalist, Antetokounmpo was largely an afterthought in a conversation that centered around Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić. In the end, Antetokounmpo (12 first-place votes) finished a distant third to Embiid, who secured his first MVP with 73 first-place votes.
But perhaps more than anything, the response to Milwaukee's first-round playoff exit has left Antetokounmpo feeling like the target of disrespect. In the immediate aftermath of Milwaukee's first-round exit to the Miami Heat, reporter Eric Nehm asked Antetokounmpo if he views the season as a failure. Antetokounmpo took the question personally.
“It’s not a failure,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s steps to success. There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships, The other nine years [were] a failure? That’s what you’re telling me. ...
“Why are you asking me that question? It’s the wrong question. There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days. Some days you’re able to be successful. Some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn. Some days it’s not your turn. And that’s what sports is about. You don’t always win. Sometimes other people win. And this year, somebody else is going to win. Simple as that. We're going to come back next year try to be better.”
Is it fair to categorize Milwaukee's season as a failure? The Bucks posted the league's best regular season record then lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat while managing a single win in a best-of-seven series. In terms of assessing wins and losses in professional sports, the result was categorically and absolutely a failure. Bucks management agreed and fired head coach Mike Budenholzer after his five seasons on the job.
Antetokounmpo instead shifted the focus of the concept of failure and responded with consideration for the bigger picture. He's a two-time MVP. He's an NBA champion. He's secured $335 million in claimed and future earnings — not including endorsements. He has a family with two young boys who he was proud to take to the zoo Sunday. And that's just him.
All of his Bucks teammates, alongside every player in the league, are among the best of the best who have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession. In those terms, it's absurd to paint the Bucks — or any NBA athlete — as a failure. The mere suggestion is more fuel for Antetokounmpo.
He has been in a similar position before. Just two seasons ago, he was a two-time MVP who had failed to advance to the NBA Finals, much less secure an NBA championship. The questions were blaring. Could he lead the Bucks to a title, or was he destined to finish his career as one of the greats to retire without a ring? He answered them emphatically with an all-time great Finals effort to lead the Bucks past the Phoenix Suns for the 2021 championship.
Now, two postseasons removed, the Bucks are facing questions again — some of them legitimate. But the game's best players and biggest winners have harvested fuel at every opportunity. And Antetokounmpo's stacking up slights whenever and wherever he finds them.