When Giannis Antetokounmpo signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013, he was a lean 18-year-old rookie from Greece, brimming with untapped potential. The Bucks , meanwhile, were an NBA franchise. In a way, it was a perfect game.
"This is my home , c 'est ma ville , Antetokounmpo wrote about Milwaukee in an Instagram post last December, announcing his decision to sign a new five-year deal with the Bucks.
As Milwaukee erupted Tuesday night celebrating the Bucks 'NBA championship win - the team ' s first win in 50 years - I found myself searching parallels between the league's star player's improbable Cinderella story and the ancient manufacturing hub where he proudly took root. For Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee, it was a triumph over what seemed like insurmountable luck.
Any Milwaukeean (including me, a native de Milwaukee) would tell you that this victory will resonate deeply for the city. A team filled with exemplary work ethic and heart, the Bucks came to embody a spirit of civic optimism in a city that would have grown.d need something to celebrate.
No one could have designed a more suitable hero to lead the charge than Antetokounmpo, an attacker. Born in Greece to undocumented Nigerian immigrants, he was legally stateless when, as a teenager , he joined a Greek amateur basketball league. from the slums of Athens to the halls of the NBA superstar in his speech after Tuesday night's victory. "Eight and a half years ago, before I entered the league, I had no idea where my next meal would come from," he said. "My mom was selling stuff on the street.
This Antetokounmpo would get NBAMVP status twice in a dealof Rust Belt ostensibly avoiding the superteam fast track to accolades and fortune makes its rise all the more remarkable.
Milwau Kee, 90 miles north of Chicago on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan, has entered the 21st century in a state of crisis. From 1967 to 2001, four of the city's 10 largest employers went out of business, and it lost nearly 83,000 manufacturing jobs . The factories and breweries that were left had faded in the shade of themselves, with staff to match. The city has yet to recover from the blow of deindustrialisation; while other mid-sized US citieshave grown in population in recent years, continues to decline . It has lasted for a few rough decades.
For the city's black community, the half-century since the last Bucks victory has been nothing short of catastrophic . Milwaukee is consistently ranked among the most segregated cities in the country, and since 1979 the median income of black households has fallen by 30%, after adjusting for inflation. This left the city's black population "exceptionally impoverished," according to a 2020 study by Marc V. Levine at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who said that the city “represents the archetype of the modern metropolitan racial apartheid and inequality.
Although the grim reality of Milwaukee's racial landscape is hardly new to locals, the subject has been a difficult one in the city.
In 2016, Bucks president, New York native Peter Feigin made national news when he bluntly described Milwaukee as" the most segregated and racist place "that he has never seen it. "It 's just a place that is run down ", reportedly-he said at a Rotary Club meeting. “He is in desperate need of repairs. He added: "One of our posts and one of our goals is to lead by example.
Tensions peaked in January 2018, when Bucks player Sterling Brown, who is black, was shocked with a stun gun and arrested by Milwaukee police. He filed a police misconduct law against the city, which was recently installed .
And in 2019, Bucks shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon doubled down on Feigin's reviews. "I have never lived in such a segregated city," said Brogdon, who is black, in an interview with The Guardian . “Milwaukee is way behind in terms of progressivism. There are things that need to change quickly. (Soon after, he left Milwaukee to play point guard for the Indiana Pacers.)
If the Bucks forced the Milwaukeeans to take an uncomfortable look at the The scale of their racism from the city, the team also served as a role model for a unified resistance.
Last summer, Antetokounmpo was among several Bucks players marching against anti-black brutality after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. The leader Jrue Holiday redirected $ 5.5 million of his salary to social justice causes, black-owned businesses andhistorically black educational institutions.
And in August, after a policeman from the nearby town of Kenosha shot dead a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in front of three of his children , the Bucks refused to come out of their locker room in their next playoff game and issued a joint statement calling for accountability and criminal justice reform. The move started a wave of similar actions in professional sports teams.
Tuesday, as the parable of courage and Bucks determination was unfolding, this adobe town celebrated as one. In a place as fractured as Milwaukee, it compte for something.
"It shows us that we can come together whenever we want," said Marcelia Nicholson, chair of the County Board of Supervisors of Milwaukee, in a recent interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . "We just have to keep finding these common goals, these common principles.
A basketball victory will not solve the city's problems. But it can become a catalyst for renewed investment in a more egalitarian and united urban fabric. Meanwhile, the Bucks and Antetokounmpo have given the world a reason to root for an oppressed city - as it learns to root itself.
Kelli Maria Korducki ( @ kelkord ) is a New York-based writer and editor. She is the author of "Hard to Do: The Surprising, Feminist History of Breaking Up ". She is originally from Milwaukee.
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