There’s no better motivation than having your heart ripped out.
And that’s why I picked the Milwaukee Bucks to beat the Phoenix
Suns in the NBA Finals.
The job is far from over. It might take six games, it could take
seven, but at least through the first five games of the series,
it’s became obvious that the Bucks had something extra, something
deep down inside that was motivating them.
It’s pain. And I can tell you that from experience.
Nothing against Phoenix, but as a whole, with the exception of
Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, the Suns aren’t a team that has taken
their lumps and learned the hard lessons of what it takes to
overcome adversity and succeed in the playoffs.
Milwaukee, on the other hand, knows it all too well. That’s why
they just refuse to quit.
During my career, I was fortunate enough to have some great
teammates, and with Jason Kidd, Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles and
Richard Jefferson, I was able to help the Nets get to back-to-back
Finals in 2002 and 2003.
In 2002, we were a really young team that hadn’t been there
before — none of us. The Lakers, on the other hand, won two
championships in a row and were looking for their three-peat. They
put foot to ass for four games straight and swept us. From that
series, I learned what a complete team looks like. We had pieces,
but we found out the hard way that we were missing a few things,
including the experience.
When people think about Shaq and Kobe, they remember the
three-peat and all that, but they don’t remember that they had a
couple early exits, too. The Lakers went 61-21 in the 1997-98
season and got swept by the Utah Jazz in the Western
Conference Finals that year.
So yeah, Shaq and Kobe beat us down, but by that time, they were
seasoned. But you know what? The next year, we used that as
Losing, especially when you’re favored and definitely
when you lose in the Finals, changes you as a player. You work for
years to get the opportunity to win a championship, and when you
fall short time after time… Man, it just hits you differently when
you get right there on the doorstep. It’s the equivalent of your
bride or your groom not showing up on your wedding day.
We had that chip on our shoulder the entire next year, and when
the 2003 playoffs came around, we were a different team. We were
tired of hearing people question our toughness and our talent. We
found a different gear.
In the first round, we split the first four games with
Milwaukee, but then we won our next 10 games in a row. We took Game
5 and Game 6 of that series, then swept the Celtics and Pistons in
the next two rounds. We got back to the Finals, but this time, we
had to play San Antonio.
Obviously, we couldn’t get over the hump. We split the first two
games in San Antonio, but then lost two out of the three on our
home floor. We went back to San Antonio for Game 6 and Game 7
behind in the series, 3-2. And couldn’t force a Game 7.
The next season, our head coach Byron Scott got fired and we
lost to the Pistons in seven games in the second round. I really
thought we were close in Jersey, but, that’s the thing about the
NBA: you never know when you might be on your last chance.
The front office there shook things up a bit and I ended up
signing with Denver. I never got back to the Finals again.
That’s the thing with Giannis and the Bucks — these guys have
been through it. They’ve been favored, had the best record, got
swept, been doubted, and they just keep coming back.
When they were down 3-2 to Brooklyn in the second round, there
was something about them that just wouldn’t let them quit, and
they’ve developed amazing resolve. That can be said of the front
Some teams would’ve considered making wholesale changes, but
they stuck with the core and allowed them to develop. They
exercised some patience and continued to build around Giannis and
found ways to bring in guys like Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday and P.J.
Tucker. Most importantly, they re-signed Khris Middleton when he
was a free agent back in 2019.
They gave Giannis every opportunity to finish what he started,
and it’s fitting considering the fact that they saw something in
him from the very beginning.
In 2014, my career was winding down, and I got an opportunity to
sign with Milwaukee. Although my time there was short, I was able
to spend some time with Giannis. He had just one season under his
belt, but the staff there was working so hard to develop him and
bring his talent out. His dedicated work ethic and positive
attitude were there from Day 1, but the staff was utilizing
advanced stats and all kind of metrics to build him individual
workout regimens, provide nutritional guidance and schedules for
when he should do his work.
So yeah, man, even though I was only there for a short time, I
saw when they started laying the foundation. There’s no shortcuts
to becoming a champion. Title teams are built and developed.
Along the way, you’re gonna take some bumps and bruises, but you
know what? You’re gonna learn. And in those lessons, you’re gonna
find the extra motivation that you need to get the job done.
Giannis just hyperextended his knee not too long ago, yet
somehow, he found the ability to have the biggest defensive play of
the series against Deandre Ayton and be the most impactful two-way
player on the floor.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I believe in Milwaukee
because I know what’s motivating them. They paid their dues and
they’re able to use their past failures as fuel to get them through
those tough times when things aren’t in their favor.
It’s nothing against Phoenix, as a unit, they just haven’t been
there yet. And while they obviously still got a shot to win this
series, in the end, in a way, I think Milwaukee’s past failures are
what’s gonna be able to get them through the storm and make the
difference when it’s all said and done.