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Milwaukee Bucks Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo delivers a much-needed lesson on Sports and Failure

In a world where people crave likes and rewards, often without anything resembling hard work, discipline, or dedication, the recent comments on failure from Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo were more than a little refreshing. If you haven’t noticed, we live in a world where the pursuit of instant gratification has reached disturbing new heights. It’s also a world where everyone believes that the “good life” and its rewards are not necessarily something you earn, but something that can be attained through social media stardom and corner-cutting.

 Who should we blame? Well, it didn’t help that many of today’s young adults were raised by lawnmower parents – that is parents who cut down any obstacle in their child’s path. These same people and their helicopter predecessors were also guilty of ensuring that every kid on the court, track, or diamond got a ribbon, a medal, or a trophy, regardless of their performance. The outgrowth of this is the rise in outsized expectations of performance and winning and unhinged ideas about how frequently the latter should occur. These expectations are routinely visited upon professional athletes who live in a world where their leagues – MLB, NHL, NBA, CFL etc. – define success by getting the ring, the trophy, and the championship at the end of the season.

Enter Buck’s power forward – and pride of Greece, Nigeria, and Milwaukee – Antetokounmpo. After what must have been a devastating playoff loss on 26 April 2023 to the no. 8 ranked Miami Heat (a team who the no. 1 seeded Bucks were expected to beat) Antetokounmpo was quizzed in the press room by a reporter who asked him if he viewed the season as a failure. After grabbing his forehead in exasperation, he calmly asked if the reporter got a promotion every year at his job, then nodding his head to what was seemingly a negative response by the reporter off camera, he continued by posing the question “so every year your work is a failure, yes or no?” The point for Antetokounmpo? Every year athletes, like everyone else, are working towards goals and these goals are achieved by steps which are often challenging and not always laid out in a smooth or even path. Ever the class act he refused to make the exchange personal instead drawing on an example to which most could relate. He continued “Michael Jordan played fifteen years, won six championships, the other nine years were a failure?”

 The lesson that Antetokounmpo delivered to the assembled reporters and all of us was profound. Yes, we will have good days and bad days, some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn! Is everybody listening? Some days, despite your hard work, grit, hustle, and grind, you still won’t win and if you have never experienced loss or failure (or never been allowed to fully experience it because people in your life have been shielding you from it), then heaven help you when true adversity comes knocking.

 Listen, there’s nothing wrong with winning. The professional sports trophies are shiny and metallic for a reason! They are designed to dazzle us with their sparkle. But it is unreasonable, unhealthy, and delusional to expect that we (or our favourite athletes or sports teams) will always be on the winning side. Thank you Antetokounmpo for this much-needed and dignified reality check.