Giannis Antetokounmpo said Wednesday that, even though the Milwaukee Bucks -- the team that finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA -- were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in five games in the first round of the playoffs, the season was "not a failure."
The Bucks unquestionably fell well short of their postseason goals. Antetokounmpo, however, said, "There's no failure in sports," only good days and bad days, days in which you're successful and days in which you're not.
Antetokounmpo's initial response to the question ("Do you view this season as a failure?") was to put his head in his hands and say, "Oh my God." Then he gathered his thoughts, of which there were many.
Here is Antetokounmpo's full exchange with Eric Nehm of The Athletic from the press conference:
"You asked me the same question last year, Eric. OK, do you get a promotion every year on your job? No, right? So every year, your work is a failure? Yes or no? No. Every year you work, you work towards something, towards a goal, which is to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, to be able to, I don't know, provide a house for them or take care of your parents, you work towards a goal, is not a failure. It's steps to success. You know?
"And if you've never -- I don't want to make it personal. So, there's always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships. The other nine years was a failure? That's what you're telling me? I'm asking you a question: Yes or no?"
[Nehm: "I mean, I don't think so, no."]
"OK, exactly. So why do you ask me that question? It's the wrong question. There's no failure in sports. You know, there's good days, bad days; some days you are 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. Some other people is going to 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, try to build good habits, try to play better, not have a 10-day stretch with playing bad basketball and hopefully win a championship. So 50 years, from 1971 to 2021 that we didn't win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No, it was not. It was steps to it. You know? And we were able to win one. Hopefully we can win another one.
"Sorry, that -- I didn't want to make it personal. Because you asked me the same question last year and last year I wasn't in the right mind space to answer the question back. But I remember it."
Was this answer:
- An honest unburdening of frustration about the black-and-white way winning and losing is often framed in professional sports?
- Directly related to the sports psychology work that Antetokounmpo has done with Dr. Craig Manning?
- A healthy way to look at unwanted results in professional basketball and life?
- Far less combative than any "Giannis destroys reporter!" headlines or tweets imply?
- Kind of just about the semantics of what constitutes "failure?"
The outcome of Milwaukee's season -- not just a loss, but a first-round loss in five games against a team that lost a play-in game less than three weeks ago -- is objectively a massive disappointment. Most people would call this a massive failure. Antetokounmpo himself, in a different context, might even do so. He just wouldn't frame the failure as damning. In his line of work, losses are inevitable, and it's helpful to look at them as stepping stones rather than giving into despair. Here he is, less than a year ago, invoking Jordan and talking about failure following Game 3 of the Bucks' second-round series against the Boston Celtics:
"There's nobody that doesn't have struggles in their career. If you don't fail, you cannot be able to succeed. Failure is a part of success. You can take from the best player that has played this game, MJ, he had struggles in the postseason early in his career. People beat him down, he had to get stronger. He's said it multiple times. We've seen it, and I believe in that.
I believe that you gotta fail, you gotta face adversity in order for you to excel. I believe in God, God puts you in a position to be successful, he never makes mistakes, so, yeah, I've failed a lot of times in my career. But at the end of the day, I never stopped coming. I'm always going to come. No matter what the outcome is going to be. The outcome is not always pretty, it's not always on your side. But I know that my effort is always going to be there for my teammates and for myself. But if I expect to just show up in the postseason and just sweep everybody and score 30 and have a triple-double and 40 and 'Oooh, yeah, let's party!' -- yeah, guys, this is the postseason. I don't think anybody in life, to be in the position that you guys are tonight was easy for you guys. The same way for us, it's not easy.
"So there's going to be struggles, but at the end of the day, if you keep with it and you stay with it, you stay on course, you're going to succeed. If you don't stay on course, you're not going to succeed. Simple as that."
If failure is a part of success, then is failure really failure?
If success and failure are two sides of the same coin, then why is labeling something a failure such a bad thing?
Much to consider.
Another thing to consider, as far as judging Milwaukee's 2022-23 season, which, again, ended in the first round after five games: Expectations.