The moment I went down … I knew.
As soon as I felt my knee buckle, and I hit the ground — I knew right away what had happened. I knew right away what it would mean.
I had torn my ACL.
Not exactly how I pictured my comeback season coming to an end.
But as tough as the injury itself was … where it really has hurt? It’s not where some people think. It’s not for what it means for my future: I’ve been through this before, and I came back better. And I know the player that I’ll be when I’m back on the court again. That doesn’t scare me. But the fact that I can’t be out there with my team, right now, during these playoffs — to finish what we started? Knowing the team that we’ve been growing into together … and not being able to see that through with them?
That’s what has hurt the most.
See, this year … it’s meant a lot to this team. This year, from the very beginning, was about us making a name for the Bucks — about us forcing our way into the argument of who the East’s top contenders are. We knew, going into the season, that we weren’t a team with a ton of playoff experience, or with a ton of veterans who’d been in these situations before, or with résumés like some other guys have in our division. We didn’t know our peak … and neither did anyone else.
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And that was part of the fun.
This year, we vowed not to be one of those teams that other teams picked on. We vowed not to be one of those teams that guys felt they could rest their stars against, or relax against in any way. And, honestly, it’s not like we had some master plan, or that we did anything special. We just went out and played. That’s it. We went out every night, and we kept our composure, and we found our confidence, and we took each challenge as it was presented to us. We figured — what fun is it to play in the NBA if we’re not taking on those challenges? If we’re not getting hyped for the Clevelands, the Golden States, the San Antonios? If we’re not working hard to perfect our late-game plays, and flip the results on some of those last-second losses? If we’re not holding our own with the teams that we’re using as our standard?
And up until the night of my injury, we took on those challenges on the court together. So, you know, that’s what has really hurt: Not being able to be out there with my team, while they’ve kept this thing going.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done: They’ve just kept going. They’ve just kept playing. They’ve just kept making strides — and I’ve been so proud of them. And I know they’ve been proud of me, too, as I’ve had to take on new challenges of my own, with my rehab.
And through it all: We’ve both had the city of Milwaukee.
Milwaukee, man … it’s home. You know I’m a Chicago kid, and Chicago will always have a big piece of my heart. But with Milwaukee — for me it was just love at first sight. As soon as I got here, I was like, Wow, this is the place for me.
I love this city.
It’s funny — I always think about this one day, pretty soon after I got here, when I took my car out for a drive around town. I pulled up to this spot … and I saw these olds guys, hanging out, sitting outside with their hot rods. I mean some real nice cars. And I parked my ride, I got out, and, man … we just got to talking. You’d look at us, and you’d probably be thinking that we have nothing in common — these old white guys, and then here I am, this young black ball player who’s bumpin’ rap music? No way. But it turned out we did. And it was just this really great day. I’ll still go back there, sometimes, and me and those guys, we’ll just catch up. I’ll ask them about cars. They’ll tell me stories about going to Bucks games in the ‘70s. It’s just very Milwaukee. We can talk about anything.
And that’s what I love about this city. It’s — well, it’s the love.
Honestly, I love this city so much that it scares me sometimes, in a way, you know? Like, I’ve seen other guys get traded and leave since I’ve been here … and you realize, Wow, as players we really don’t have that much control over it all. But one thing I do have control over, regardless of my playing career, is knowing that I want to raise my own family here someday. It’s that deep.
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So, to Milwaukee: I just want to take a line and say thank you. I feel it when you come up to me, I feel the support. And I’ve especially felt it during this rehab process. It means more than you know, more than I can put into words. And when I come back, know that it’s not just to play….
It’s to play with that Bucks jersey on my back.
It’s to play with these guys.
Of course, that all starts with Giannis. Everyone knows The Greek Freak — the numbers he’s been putting up, the All-Star caliber performances. But this is also a guy who’s put in a ton of work to get here. We’ve come up together, so trust me, I’ve seen it. And I don’t just mean his minutes on the court. I mean the time he spends well before and long after our games start and end. He is just constantly working on his game. Constantly. He knows this team and this city are relying on him. And he hasn’t let us down.
Khris is another one of our leaders — and he’s someone I look to for guidance, because he’s gone through a serious injury like I have. Khris has been amazing. He’s made it through so many setbacks, and really silenced a lot of his doubters. And to me, his comeback this season kind of just underscores the mentality of our entire team: Doubt us, but we’ll keep proving you wrong.
And then here’s my question to all the teams who passed up on Malcolm in last year’s draft: Why? Here’s another one: What were you thinking? I knew him from our ACC days, I knew what kind of player and person he was, and you all slept on him. Every day, watching him play, I have to resist saying, “I told you so.” Just don’t make the same mistake when it comes to handing out Rookie of the Year.
O.K., now ask me about the one guy people constantly overlook on this team — and I’ll say the same name every time: Michael Beasley. Without a doubt. People throw a lot of negativity Mike’s way, but let me tell you: It’s a testament to his character, how he lets it roll off of him. This guy is just so important to our team, and he has been a big part of why we’re where we are right now. We needed him when I went down, and he stepped up.
You can put Michael in and he changes the whole pace of the game. Like, he’ll give you ten points in six minutes, that’s how good he is. And he’s probably one of my favorite people I’ve been on a team with, because he’s also just a great guy and a big family man — I really hope people know that. Michael’s a big kid at heart — always clowning around, always pulling pranks, always keeping things loose as veterans do.
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And then there’s Greg, who’s taught me so much about the game, and about dealing with some of the frustrations that I’ve gone through this season. I’ll always be appreciative of that. Greg is also one of the top centers in this league — and yet he’s put his pride on the backburner this year to come off the bench for us. Not a lot of guys would do that. That’s really something.
You also need a guy on your team who can hit a big shot, in a crucial moment, and Tony’s been our guy. He’s been clutch for us, night in and night out, all year long. He kind of reminds me of Danny Green on the Spurs, in that way. And he’s also got that size, for a guard, at six-foot-seven — which he isn’t afraid to use to get his shots off when he’s open. (And he usually makes them.) He was a surprise, too. Like, when Tony came from the Bulls in that trade, I didn’t know what to expect at first. The best part, though, is that other teams haven’t known what to expect from him either — but man, they know once the game is over. That shot, it does all of the talking.
And then of course there’s our “old head,” Jason Terry. Well, he’s not really that old … but he’s still our vet out there. He’s getting us hyped, getting the crowd hyped — Jason just has this very unique energy, and brings a special life to our team. He’s our spark.
Plus we’ve got Delly, and Thon, and Henson, and Gary, and Rashad, and Mirza, and Spencer … and just everyone else in the organization. They’re all a part of this. And they’ve all played a key role in how we’ve been able to keep it going this season.
Man … I’d give anything, though, to be out there playing right now. I’d give anything to be out there while we’re making this run.
To be out there with my team — and with my city, too.
And I know, even after stealing home court in Toronto … and even after an incredible win like we had in Game 3 … and even after putting Milwaukee Basketball back on the map, in a lot of ways … we’re still no one’s title favorite. We’re still no one’s pick to come out of the East. And some people probably don’t even think we can win this series. But, man … just look at those guys out there. Something special is happening — and it’s not happening because of a couple of lucky bounces. It’s happening because my guys are for real. And because they’re going out there, and doing in prime-time what we’ve been doing all season: Just playing our game.
Something special is happening — and it’s not happening because of a couple of lucky bounces. It’s happening because my guys are for real.
So I have a pretty good feeling about these playoffs, and this run we’re on. I really do. I know that we don’t have this big winning reputation yet … and I know that we aren’t one of those “glamour” teams … and I know that we still have a lot to prove.
But that’s O.K.
We’ve never needed all that. We’ve never needed to be in that comfort zone. We’ve never needed favorable odds, or perfect health, or a high seed, or a bunch of experts picking us to advance. We’ve never needed things to come easy.
Honestly, I don’t even think we want them to.
Because what we want is to overcome all of that — overcome everything that we’ve been through together — and still persevere. We want to keep working as a team … and growing as a team … and we want to just keep getting better.
And then eventually we want to give Milwaukee what it deserves.