Kerr applauds Giannis' perspective on tough ‘failure' question


SAN FRANCISCO – Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo this week offered a viewpoint so sound in its logic and wisdom that Warriors coach Steve Kerr was moved to practically stand and cheer.

In the wake of the No. 1 overall seed Bucks being upset by No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Antetokounmpo was asked if he viewed this season as a failure.

“It’s not failure,” he said, launching a viral video segment. “It’s steps to success. There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years. Won six championships. The other nine years was a failure?”

It was the beginning of a thoughtful answer, perhaps reflective of Antetokounmpo’s humble beginnings as child of Nigerian immigrants living in Greece. Giannis and his brother, Thanasis, sold men’s and women’s accessories on the streets of Athens to help their parents.

Then, too, Antetokounmpo’s response is refreshing not only to the NBA but to sports and society at large.

“My reaction,” Kerr said, “was just how lucky we are to have Giannis in the league and being one of the marquee stars in the league – not only for his talent but his humanity and his perspective. He’s so right. Are there really 29 failures every year in the league? It just can't be zero-sum game.”

“The other thing is these guys work so hard and they put so much into it and so when you hear terms like ‘embarrassment’ or ‘shame?’  Why shouldn't anybody on Milwaukee be embarrassed or ashamed that they lost a playoff series? They shouldn’t. Giannis is right. As long as they put in the work and put in the effort, which you know they did. This is sports at the highest level.”

The Bucks earned the top seed based on their league-best 58-24 regular-season record. The Heat, by contrast, qualified for the playoffs after losing their first play-in game and winning the second. Miami not only won the series but did so in five games – and by wiping out a 16-point deficit in Game 5 Milwaukee’s home court.

Disappointing? Absolutely. Failure? The argument could be made, but Giannis’ brought nuance into the discussion. The world, as it is 2023, with social media generating all relentless waves of indirect warfare, seems to be shoving nuance into obsolescence.

“There’s no failure in sports,” Antetokounmpo said. “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. That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win. Some other people are going to win. And this year, somebody (else) is going to win.”

Players and coaches and managers in every sport understand and accept this fact. So do general managers. Many at the very top of a franchise and, therefore, responsible for signing paychecks, tend to have a lower tolerance.

Giannis pointed out that the Bucks won their first NBA Finals in 1971 and did not win another for 50 years, when he led them to it in 2021. His point? Were there 50 years of failure?

Were the 2022-23 Orlando Magic, clearly rebuilding, a failure? The Pittsburgh Steelers, with a rookie quarterback, a failure in the NFL?

To label them “failures” would leave no room for development, for growth and for building a contender, much less a champion.

Only winning. Every championship. Every year. Insane, eh?

“These are the greatest players on earth, and they’re competing against each other,” Kerr said. “Somebody is going to win. Somebody is going to lose.

“I just think we’re so lucky to have a guy like Giannis leading our league and talking some sense into people and offering perspective. Because it’s a really difficult job for these players, especially, to be in the spotlight and being judged and criticized to the point that they are.”

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Giannis simply acknowledged the reality of competitive sports, where games and events are won and lost. There is success and failure, yes, but there also is plenty of healthy space in between.

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