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Why an NBA star's response to a reporter's question about losing hit a nerve

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks sits on the bench after losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs against the Miami Heat in overtime.
Stacy Revere
Getty Images
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks sits on the bench after losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs against the Miami Heat in overtime.

The Bucks star was prompted on whether he considered the season a "failure" after an unexpected playoffs loss. His perspective has been praised around the league and beyond.

Who is he? Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 28-year-old power forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, lovingly dubbed the "Greek Freak."

  • After suffering a back injury in game one of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs, the NBA star was trying to catch his team up. 
  • What's the big deal? In a 128-126 upset, the Miami Heat win knocked the Bucks out of the playoffs. But it was Antetokounmpo's reaction that people kept talking about days later.

  • In the post-match press conference, a reporter asked him if, given the shock result, he considered the season a failure. 
  • In a lot of professional sports, the GOAT culture debate places championship rings over the journey to those rings. Antetokounmpo's perspective goes against that thinking and the "rings or else" framing.
  • It's been picked up and circulated everywhere from social media to news articles, and held up as an example of the "growth mindset."

  • Want more on basketball? Listen to Consider This on how women's basketball is having a surge in popularity.

    What are people saying?

    Antetokounmpo, after being asked if he considered the past season a failure:

    Do you get a promotion every year at your job? No, right? So every year, your work is a failure? No. Every year, you work towards something, which is a goal: It's to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, provide a house for them, or take care of your parents. It's not a failure, it's steps to success. There's always steps to it. Michael Jordan played for 15 years and won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure? That's what you're telling me.

    There's no failure in sports. 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. That's what sport's about. You don't always win, some other people are gonna win. And this year, someone else is gonna win. Simple as that. 

    So 50 years from 1971-2021 that we didn't win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No it was not, there were steps to it, and we were able to win one, hopefully we can win another one.

    Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Antetokounmpo:

    My reaction 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? One team, it just can't be a zero sum game. The other thing is, like, these guys — I watch our guys every day and I know this goes on around the league — but, these guys work so hard and they put so much into it. 

    Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti's reaction:

    What Antetokounmpo said was fantastic ... Failure is when you don't try to do something as well as you can. When you try to do your best, you have a clear conscience, and that's never a failure, not just in sport but in life.

    So, what now?

  • The conference semifinals continue on Monday night, with the Philadelphia 76ers facing off against the Boston Celtics.
  • Antetokounmpo on his future plans: "We're gonna come back next year, try to be better, try to build good habits, try to play better, not have 10 days straight of bad basketball, and hopefully we can win a championship." 
  • Learn More:

  • Basketball legend Larry 'Gator' Rivers, longtime Globetrotter, has died at 73
  • He played more than 1,100 minor league games, and finally made an emotional MLB debut
  • At the NFL draft, players share the stage with fashion
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.