July 21, 2021
Photo by Andrew Bernstein/Getty Images and NBAE
NBA Finals have been transpiring since 1947 with some vintage series' like Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers, etc. 2021's Finals featured the Phoenix Suns against the Milwaukee Bucks. This is what Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and select Milwaukee Bucks players vocalized to the media after winning the NBA World Championship in six games on Tuesday.
Question: When you started this year, however many, 14 new players, changed the offense, did a lot of things defensively, out of your comfort zone a little bit. As you sit here and that clock winds down, I guess can you speak to how you feel about that, how the effort you and your staff and the team put in to get here?
Answer: I definitely will answer that question. I will again take a second to acknowledge the Phoenix Suns. Their players, amazing players led by Devin Booker, Chris Paul. Their whole roster. Amazing coach, Monty Williams. The entire organization. So much respect for them as competitors. I just have so much respect for Monty and his team.
You know, I think it's just a credit to the players. We've been pushing and trying to get better. The players embrace everything. They are amazingly coachable. They take it and soak it in and they have made the best of it. They have done that from day one this year. So I'm happy for the players. I'm impressed by them every day.
Question: As you've tried to put this puzzle together, this is a three-year process of, all right, first let's install all the stuff we want to do, let's tweak it and make some changes. What does that process feel like, the constant tinkering and tweaking to get to this spot?
Answer: Yeah, it's basketball. It's playing. It's coaching. The game is always evolving and changing. We've been close and we keep pushing and trying to get better. The players, that's just one of our mantras is to get better, and I think the entire organization embraces it. What Jon Horst has done to put together a team, he's the greatest GM in the league. I'm a little bit biased, but to be his partner, for him to go out and get Jrue Holiday, to have the guts to make that (trade), to recruit guys, to get P.J. Tucker midseason, Bobby Portis in the offseason. Stick with Khris, Giannis and Brook, and Pat and these guys, and you go up and down the roster, Jon has done an amazing job. Ownership, Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, Jamie Dinan, and Mike Fascitelli give us what we need. We keep pushing. We try to get better as coaches, players, and here we are tonight. It's special.
Question: Throughout your tenure, you have not been afraid to use the word "love" with your team and your coaches, and everyone. There are two hugs I'd like to know about.
Answer: You won't get to know about them, but go ahead.
Question: Giannis lifting you up into the air. The second time he's gotten a chance to do that. And you and Giannis and Khris having a moment together, and whether or not you want to tell me about the hug, the partnership, and what that's meant.
Answer: Darvin (Ham) and the coaches -- Darvin has been with me since the first day I was a head coach. Some of these guys have been with me for seven years, and then we have new guys that have come in. Those coaches do all the work. Every day what they do, before practice, in the coaches' meetings, ideas, thoughts, concepts. I love those guys, no doubt about it. The staff, I think it's part of what makes coaching special is having assistant coaches and a staff that you can laugh with, you can cry with, you can work with, you can debate with or fight --sometimes we fight.
And then Giannis and Khris, it's special for me to get the opportunity to coach those two guys. The leadership they have shown since day one, from having breakfast together, you can see their desire to be great and their desire to push this organization to where we are tonight.
To embrace those guys, and I love them. I love the players, I love the roster, I love the team. I'm incredibly fortunate to be where I am and just to be a small part of what's happening tonight.
Question: Giannis' game, particularly from the free-throw line, defensively, have you run out of things to say about him?
Answer: Yeah, I just say, come on up, take over, I don't want to do any more media. This is not my thing (laughing). No, it's hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does. But the way he made his free throws, the way he did everything, stepped up, the poise, the confidence, the leadership. He has been working on it. We say we want Giannis to get to the free-throw line. We believe. We talked about it this past summer. To win a championship, you've got to make free throws and you've got to make shots. He's made shots throughout the playoffs. He's made free throws throughout the playoffs. (Five) blocked shots, however many points. He's off the charts. He's the MVP of the NBA Finals.
Question: Was there any time when the series probably swung in your favor or was it just this game?
Answer: Every game takes on its own personality, but to come home and win Game 3 when you're down 2-0, you have to win the third and to win the fourth. Go to Phoenix and win on the road set us up tonight to close it out here in front of the fans. Every game is big when you get to this stage.
Question: You guys are down seven at halftime, Giannis comes out and single-handedly changed the game. Were there any conversations at halftime to set the tone in the third quarter?
Answer: Mostly in halftime we were talking about defense. We had 47 points against us and we think we can be better. But I think he embraces us being great defensively. Giannis does, the whole team. When we get stops and get out and run and get Giannis in space, get our team in space, I think he's special. He was able to put his stamp on the game in the third quarter and flip the score. And then some big plays in the fourth quarter -- big plays, big blocks. It's hard to keep finding words for Giannis.
Hard to talk about him while he's in the room, so I think he should come up here.
Question: I know you mentioned a couple of things, but did you find things after Game 2 that really did change the tone of the series?
Answer: Well, we just felt like we played better in Game 2. Game 1, we were not very good. You have to look at yourself. You have to be honest. We went into Game 2 and we still felt like we were able to get over the hump and we were getting better and learned some things defensively. This group loves to take the challenge. They watched the film and got better, and from 2 to 3 we got better and 3 to 4 and through tonight. It's been great to watch and witness what this team does when they are challenged.
Thank you, guys.
Point Guard/Shooting Guard/Small Forward/Power Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Question: When you first started playing basketball, did you ever think a moment like this would happen?
Answer: No, man. I started playing basketball just to help my family. Tried to get them out of the struggle, the challenges we were facing when we were kids. But I never thought I'm going to be 26 years old, with my team playing the NBA Finals. Just playing -- like, I was just happy just being like not even winning, just being a part of this, of this journey. But I never thought I would be sitting here with this right here and this right here (the championship and MVP trophies.) We've come a long way.
Question: When thinking about the country that your parents came from, what do you think about? Do you know what you represent to the continent and what do you think this title and those two trophies mean to the continent?
Answer: Obviously, I represent my country, both countries, Nigeria and Greece. A lot of kids from there. But not just from Nigeria; all Africa and all Europe. I know I'm a role model. But this should make every person, every kid, anybody around the world believe in their dreams. No matter whatever you feel when you're down when you don't think it's going to happen for you or you might not make it in your career -- might be basketball, might be anything -- just believe in what you're doing and keep working. Don't let anybody tell you what you can be and what you cannot do. People told me I cannot make free throws. I made my free throws tonight and I'm a freaking champion. I made them when I'm supposed to make them. I'm joking -- actually, I'm not (laughter).
Just believe, man. I hope I give people around the world, from Africa, from Europe, hope that it can be done. It can be done.
Eight years ago, eight and a half years ago, when I came to the league, I didn't know where my next meal will come from. My mom was selling stuff in the street. Now I'm here sitting at the top of the top. I'm extremely blessed. I'm extremely blessed. If I never have a chance to sit at this table ever again, I'm fine with it. I'm fine with it. I hope this can give everybody around the world hope. I want them to believe in their dreams.
Question: Your journey as a pro. You played point guard. You developed off the bench. What does it mean with your journey?
Answer: It's been a long journey. I've done it all, man. I did anything that I could just to be on the court, just to be in this position. I've not played. I've come off the bench. When I was 18, I started on the team. I went to the front office and told them to send me to the G League. I've played point guard. I've only defended. Slashed from the corners and everything. In my fourth year, I was able to lead as a ball handler.
I've done it all. Tonight, that's what I had to do. I had to do a little bit of everything. I had to defend, I had to rebound, I had to block. Did a little bit of everything.
But people that helped me throughout this journey -- John Hammond drafted me and believed in me, brought my family over here, made me feel comfortable like I was his son when I was homesick and I was alone in the hotel. Jason Kidd came to the team and pushed me. Told me do not shoot, but okay, you know, I develop other parts in my game, getting to the rim, just getting to the free-throw line.
And Coach Bud. Coach Bud believed in me. He told me that in order for me to win, in order for me to be great, I have to trust my team. I have to make the right pass. I cannot be stubborn. I have got to trust the process.
It was a three-year process. I want to thank all of these guys. I've done it all on the court and I've done it all off the court and I keep going. I can't stop. That's my personality. I cannot stop.
Question: When you signed your contract extension, I'm sure it was with this in mind. Could you imagine it happening for you the way that it happened?
Answer: No. No. I just I couldn't leave. There was a job that had to be finished. The bubble did not pay us justice. Give credit to the Miami Heat. They played great. But they did not pay us justice. Everybody was feeling homesick. We are a family-oriented team and we wanted to see our families.
But coming back, I was like, this is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us. Even when we lost, the city was still -- went outside and you know, obviously, I wanted to get the job done. But that's my stubborn side. It's easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It's easy. I could go -- I don't put -- I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship.
But this is the hard way to do it and this is the way to do it and we did it. (Expletive) did it. We did it, man.
Question: What else is there to say about your partnership with Khris?
Answer: I love Khris to death, man. I love him to death, man. It's crazy. But the same thing I said out there: that he doesn't realize how much he pushes me to be great. He pushes me to be great. I had people push me to be great and be persistent and just be dominant and just keep coming and keep working hard. He's one of those guys.
You know, there was nobody in this world that I would rather do this journey with than that guy. He's been here since the beginning. He's been since the day since we were fighting for some minutes. He was yelling at me when I was 18. He was yelling to me to pass the ball and everything. We were fighting on the court when we were kids, and now we're on this stage doing it together.
We have to enjoy this moment. We have to share this moment. Maybe we might not have another moment like this. Who knows, we can't predict the future. But we have to live in the moment, enjoy this moment. I hope Khris enjoys it with his family. And he played amazing throughout the whole playoffs, man. He led us when I was down. He gave me a chance to come back.
But once we're done enjoying this, we got to get back to work. We got to do it again. That's how I and Khris operate.
Question: When you were on stage for the regular-season MVPs, you didn't want those chants or those calls. Is that a different kind of MVP?
Question: You know what I mean, terms of what this is?
Answer: I don't want anybody -- I remember the summer after I won my first MVP, I was happy. I was happy with my family, but at the same time, I was miserable. Like everywhere I went, it was like, MVP.
It's done. It's over with. It's done. It's in the past. Got to do it again. And I was able to do it again. This year I wasn't able to do it. I don't know why, but okay.
But this, this is a feeling, like this is an addictive feeling. I love playing in the playoffs. I love playing in the Finals. These are the moments I want to chase. I want the team to build off this and hopefully, we can do it again.
Question: Back in 2017, Kobe gave you the first challenge for MVP and you made it two years after. In 2019, Kobe said championship, and two years after, you made it again. What does that mean for you to have Kobe Bryant believe new when you were 22 years old and give you a new challenge and you made it?
Answer: It means a lot. It started almost like a joke at first. It was a challenge to players, and I was like, let me just shoot my shot, kind of like, what's my challenge, and he was like MVP. But at first, I was, like, joking. I didn't think he was going to respond to me.
But when he did, he made me believe. I'm like, Kobe Bryant thinks I can do this and I can play at a high level and build my team and win my MVP? I had to do it. I had to work hard. And to not necessarily let him down. I had to work hard because people believed that I can do it. That's the thing. I'm a people pleaser. I don't like letting people down. I don't like -- when I signed with the city of Milwaukee, that's the main reason I signed because I didn't want to let the people down and think that I didn't work extremely hard for them, which I do. But to be able to accomplish those things, it's crazy. It's unreal. It's freaking unreal. I can't believe it.
Question: And I saw the tears drop. What were you thinking about when the whole -- like all the emotion?
Answer: I was like, this is going to hurt tomorrow. I'm joking.
Question: What were you thinking?
Answer: The whole journey. In order for me to be in this position, how much my parents sacrificed. How much my parents sacrificed. I saw that every day. My mom worked extremely hard every day for me to be in this position and she never pressured me to do other things. This is for my dad; that he's watching from above and he can see it. And this is for my significant other, also. Every day, she helps me be better, a better person. She let me do what I'm supposed to do, and she takes care of my son and my next son. And my brothers.
I can be stubborn sometimes. I can disconnect myself from the world because I want this so bad. I wanted this so bad, and I was able to get it. That's why I was tearing up. But people helped me to be in this position. I didn't do it by myself. Every freaking day, people helped me.
And I want to thank my dad, my mom, for my significant other, Mariah, and my brothers and my son, and the people throughout the journey that helped me.
Question: What do you put up on the marker board after that? It's a zero. There's no more game countdown or anything like that.
Answer: Party (laughter). This is time to party. No, I'm joking.
No, you know what I want? I'll be serious with you. This might sound cocky -- I want to develop a time machine that I can go back in time in my rookie year to win the Rookie of the Year. And if I win the Rookie of the Year, I've won it all. And then late in my career, I'm going to win Sixth Man of the Year, too. I'm going to come off the bench. I'm going to tell Bud that I want to come off the bench.
But no, this is the time to celebrate and spend some time with my family, to devote myself to them, to my mom, to my significant other, Mariah, to my son. And then this is going to be a quick turnaround. You know, we're going to be back and a lot of people are going to come after us, and we have to be ready for that. We have to be ready.
Question: You changed a lot from all those years ago. When you were 19, I think you were at Summer League with you tweeted something about, "I'm not leaving Milwaukee until I win a championship."
Answer: I'm out now. Can I leave now?
Question: That's your call.
Answer: I want a trade. (Laughter.) Who do I have to talk to about a trade? Jon? I want a trade.
Question: For you, just thinking of that 19-year-old kid, that's a statement I don't know if you understood?
Answer: I didn't understand it. I wouldn't make that statement. But that's what I believed. I believed. Do you know little kids are very honest? You know, a five-year-old kid, I might be gaining some pounds, and he goes, you're fat, like brutally honest? That was me at that point. I was so honest. After the Summer League, we played four games, five games, and we like lost all of them.
I was like, okay, I'm going to win a championship with Milwaukee. I'm going to do whatever it takes in order for me to win it. And we did it. We did it, man.
This was an amazing journey. The outcome was great, but even if the outcome wasn't great, thank you for doing your job. It was easy to deal with you guys. Khris, take it. Do your thing.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward: Khris Middleton
Question: You and Giannis have been together forever. There was a hug with you, Giannis, and Bud. What was it like to have Bud kind of join your group? Like you're already five years into knowing Giannis and you two are together and then Bud comes in and now three years later, you guys have gotten there. Feels like you guys have gone through some stuff. You couldn't shoot as much from the mid-range, you had to go to the rim. All those things along the way, what was that process like?
Answer: It was all worth it for sure. Us challenging each other to be better, me being stubborn in some ways. But the thing I like, he challenged us all. I think we challenged him in certain ways to help us, but for the main part, he challenged us every day to be leaders, to fight through adversity, to change our games a little bit. As I said, it's all worth it.
Question: I've told you what people say about you and you tell me, "I don't care, I'm just going to do my thing." What do you say to the naysayers that said you weren't good enough and the team wasn't good enough and now you're here as an NBA champion?
Answer: I still don't care about what those other people say. At the end of the day, we knew what we need to do in this locker room and our organization and it seemed like it took forever, but it's not easy to get to this point or this stage.
Shout out to Phoenix Suns. Monty Williams came over and talked to us for a quick second. They challenged us and knocked us in the mouth the first two games, but I love the way we responded. We didn't give up on ourselves. Our home crowd was amazing, this whole playoff run, this whole season, even when we didn't have them at the beginning of the season. But to have them here at this point is amazing and I hope they enjoy it just like we are right now.
Question: I know you don't like to necessarily reflect on your journey, but a second-round pick where you didn't play a whole lot your rookie year and you get traded here, you probably could have come out after your freshman year of college, but you stayed. Do you ever think that all these things sort of happened and come together for a reason, for the greater good?
Answer: Yeah, for sure. Not every path or every player coming out is perfect. You know, it's tough. To be in the league is tough. To be 450 players, 500 players, G League, all those players, but to stick with it and have faith and believe in yourself at all times, even when it's not going your way, to continue to keep working, that's what it's all about. That's what every player in this league does, even around the world, you keep working, you keep believing in yourself to get to this point.
Question: You had that tough second quarter. What was said in the locker room? You came out in the third quarter and fourth quarter and played a lot better. What was said in halftime?
Answer: We got stagnant a little bit. You know, halftime, we made -- saw what we were doing wrong, basically. But in the second half, it was all Giannis, I'm not going to lie. He got the ball; he dominated; he didn't settle. Forced his way to the rim. Forced his way to the free-throw line. He held us down for the majority in the second half of the game.
Question: During this run-up, Giannis talk a lot about you and what you meant to him and he mentioned that Toronto series and what you went through and how that opened his eyes to you and you were the guy then for him to do this with, I'm guessing, you know, when did you realize he was the guy for you? Did you have that kind of turning point as he did?
Answer: I mean, we had -- we formed a bond, a brotherhood since that first year we've been together. We struggled. We struggled together.
But we both saw in each other there was no give-up. It was all motivation to be better and not be embarrassed. Year after year we challenged each other to be better. Challenged each other to be better leaders, better teammates.
Yeah, I mean -- yeah.
Question: From the time you guys were down 0-2 to now, what did you learn about yourself, and what did you learn about your teammates?
Answer: We were down 0-2 against Brooklyn and came together as a group within our film session and talked it out. We all wanted to be on the same page and realized how we needed to play and what we needed to do. It was the same thing in this series. We never got down, we're still playing, we still have a chance. That's the way we felt, no matter if we were down in the game or the series, it didn't matter. We knew each time we took the court we had a chance to win. And we have everybody in the locker room and organization that believes and that is never going to give up until it's completely over. That's who you want to play with, guys who are going to fight to the end.
Question: Has it been easy to play with a player like Giannis or did it have its challenges?
Answer: It's easy. You see a guy that wants to work, that wants to win, that's all you want as a teammate. Nobody's perfect. Everybody is going to make mistakes. I've made my share of mine and he's made his share of his, but at the end of the day, we are always trying to win. Him, whoever, anybody that came into our locker room, into our organization, we want them to work, no matter what, if they are playing, if they are not, to continue to try to get better because we knew that's the only way to get to this point is to work to be better as a person and work to be better as a team.
Question: This is obviously your championship, but for the city as well, I feel like you have a really unique perspective, you and Giannis because you were here when things were tough. What does that mean for you -- I don't know if you identify as a Milwaukeean or if you still consider yourself South Carolina. What does it mean for the two of you and this city?
Answer: For the city, I'm sure it means everything. They have seen the work we put in to get to this point, trying to sell tickets to people to come to the game to now having it packed out and having I think 65,000 people outside the arena tonight. It's an amazing transformation.
But it's not just me and Giannis, it's the whole organization. They did a great job of building things around this city, helping the communities around here, and then getting them to come and cheer us on, that was our motivation for sure.
As far as me and Giannis, I forgot the second part of your question.
Reporter banters back: That's okay.
Question: In the second quarter, was there anything that changed in the second half, or was it just getting Giannis the ball?
Answer: That was just us. Credit Suns defense. They were tough. They switched a lot and blitzed a lot and forced us to tough isolations or tough jumpers.
In the second half, we told ourselves we had to come out and play like the first quarter, just attack and don't settle, and Giannis was a big part of that, just coming out and pin his head down and get it to the rim.
Question: You guys had been pretty much the best team in the league regular-season wise for the last couple of years, close to a 71-win pace before the Bubble was necessary last year, and seemed like this year you came in knowing you would want to tweak things to get over the hump. It seemed like there were some rough patches, 16-13 to start the year. How did going through that and knowing there would be lumps at the beginning, Did that prepare you guys to potentially be behind in the series and to overcome certain things to get to where you are now?
Answer: As a whole, we used a lot of our failures as experiences. We've been in a lot of situations our past years here. At the beginning of the year, we had a new team, a lot of new rotation guys, different guys step into the starting lineup and we knew it was going to be challenging, but we all said it was going to be worth it to learn and find out how to adjust and figure out what we needed to do in-game to win. We knew it wasn't always going to be pretty, we knew we were going to have to win different styles of ballgames, but that's the type of team you want to be, to throw different guys out there, different lineups out there because you can't win the same way at this level.
Point Guard/Shooting Guard: Jrue Holiday
Question: This was the idea, that they would get you and they would be able to go and win a championship. What does that feel like to be counted on to try to swing this thing actually feel like you might have done it?
Answer: Yeah, I'm not going to lie it feels good. I told Jon [Horst], I told Bud when they first traded for me, that I appreciated them and it felt good to feel like you’re needed. It's been like that the whole season. They relied on me, they put some pressure on me but I think coming from my team and then believing in me means everything.
Question: Giannis and Khris have been together for eight years and after five years Bud joins them and in this Final year, you join them. Guys like that might not have always been welcoming. What did they do to bring you into the fold and really make you feel like you belong here?
Answer: Honestly from the beginning, they let me know what's up. It is their team and I feel like that's part of the reason why they brought me here. I'm good with the system and I'm good with supporting and I'm good with being good in my role. Those guys have been here the longest and everything they have been through, especially the last couple of years, I really just feel like it's a team effort, and we just kind of put that puzzle piece together and finally got a win.
I won the last game of my season. So, it's the first, first time ever.
Question: I know it's hard to kind of ask this, but to go through this year the way you started with camp, the bubble, the COVID recovery and going through that and what you kind of went through, I'm sure any championship season would be satisfying, but what was this like for you, you know what I mean? Because moving and moving your family in a pandemic and kind of all of these things that were kind of on your shoulders as well as the basketball.
Answer: I mean, it was worth it, all of it. Having a newborn, moving him at four weeks, coming to Milwaukee, moving my family like you said, being in that place for seven years and coming here and again just applying pressure, coming into a situation where they were established and they had high expectations. Going through COVID, having COVID, getting the vaccine, having this Delta variant, like so much stuff has tried to stop us.
But, we're on top. So, it was all worth it.
Question: You're in a conversation now with Oscar Robertson. It was 50 years ago they traded for a veteran point guard to get over the top. I know how your dad feels about Oscar. I don't know, that idea, is that something that you can recognize the city thinks of you as?
Answer: I feel like when you hear that name, it's legendary. I not saying that I am but being in the same company as that it's a blessing. I play the game, not for the accolades, but I play because I loved it and I love to win. But to be mentioned with names like Oscar Robertson is a blessing.
Question: You're obviously going to the Olympics. What do the next few days like and how do you soak this in and celebrate before you have to turn the page to the next thing?
Answer: First I think I'm just going to sleep. I've run around a lot this series. I'm not going to lie. I'm going to sleep. I'm going to celebrate with my family and celebrate with my team and then got to get on another flight. That's a whole other story. That's something that you -- yeah, I don't know. Yeah, I don't know, my boy. I'm at a loss for words. I've got to celebrate this and then get on a flight and represent my country.
Question: You look like you were a pretty old man walking up here to sit down. You've obviously expended a ton of energy guarding Chris full court, using your body to get in the lane a lot. How drained are you?
Answer: At this point, it doesn't matter. I came out on top and everything that I laid out there, just all the fighting that we had to do this season, working on in the offseason, everything that you put in with your family everything, and is all worth it.
Question: And you said this is the first time you've ever won the last game of your season. Is that all the way back to high school and beyond that?
Answer: I got three state championships in high school.
Question: You spent a long time waiting to have a playoff run like this in the NBA to get to this point to be part of a team like this. What has this entire experience been like the last couple of months to finally get a chance to show what a lot of people knew about your game on a stage like this?
Answer: Yeah, I think when it comes down to it, man, I guess I don't really even care what people think about my game. I think it's about the team. We have a great team. How they put it together, we have two superstars who carried us this whole playoff series and the whole playoffs. We got great role players. We got the energy. We got Bobby. We got shooters. It's just a great puzzle piece -- or it's a great puzzle. I think every piece in that puzzle has contributed so much from the rookie to -- from Jordan Nwora to Giannis Antetokounmpo. So, it's been a heck of a journey.
Question: It feels like every time I tell someone on this team “Somebody says this about you,” it's like, I don't care. Whether it’s Khris or Giannis, someone hearing, “Hey, you're not good enough.” Do you guys bond over that at all? It feels like Brook got discarded by a team, you got traded as part of the process. It feels like that's a common theme for all of you.
Answer: Sure, I think everybody at the end of the day knows their worth, though. Maybe if you're not fitting in in one situation, there can be light at the end of the tunnel or the grass is greener somewhere else. Just a testament that those guys, those are good character guys.
Everybody on my team is humble. Everybody on my team puts their head down and they work. Everybody on my team supports each other. There's no envy or jealousy. Everybody loves to see everybody else succeed and I feel like that's the biggest reason why we're here.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward/Power Forward: P.J. Tucker
Question: You've had quite a journey over the 15 years since you came into the league. Curious, after all of that, all the various countries you've been to, all the ups and downs you've had, deep playoff runs you had, what was going through your mind as you had that ball as the clock ran out?
Answer: Too much. I guess somebody asked me the other day, it's like -- and what was it, in 2010 or 2011, when I was in Germany, like what would I tell myself now, what would I tell myself. And I was like, You ain't going to believe this s---, man. Now I'm like, You definitely ain't going to believe this s--- like it's really happening like it really happened. Fifteen years. So it's a lot. It's a lot.
Question: You saw this team from afar the past couple of years, obviously you came along midseason. Beyond the additions of guys like you and Jrue, what was different about this group in your mind that allowed it to succeed in ways that it wasn't able to the past couple of years?
Answer: They won so many games. They won like 65 games. They had a lot of big, big seasons. Players watch games. You see it and you kind of be like, I can play there; I think I could fit there. And kind of see where you could fit. When I saw the Jrue sign, I was like, Yeah, that's it. If I was going to get traded, my crew was talking, we're like, Milwaukee is where to go. And for it to actually happen, it was like, Whoa, this is crazy. But we saw this. What actually happened is one thing, but we saw it early. So it's unreal. It's still hard to even process. Honestly.
(Question from Bobby Portis): This is Bobby from 1on1underdog.com. How does it feel to be an NBA champion?
Answer: Oh, man. My dawgs. I told people, we have a lot of dudes that people counted out, didn't believe in, didn't think they could play, didn't think they were supposed to be here. We look at each other in the locker room -- I can't even explain it to people.
Question: I guess to go off of that question, you saw Milwaukee from the outside, but still had to come inside and get in the locker room and see the practice, all that stuff. When did you know? When you walk in the door, was it literally that first meeting, that first practice, or did it take you time?
Answer: No, it took time. You could see it. Everything kind of got -- Coach has to play it the right way. It's got to flow. And mind you, we didn't have Donte. We're missing a big piece. Donte would have been huge for this series, especially a big series.
But all that mattered. Even throughout the process, me, I got hurt early and being out. It was a lot of obstacles throughout the season. So it wasn't just like, Oh, we can win it. It's like, Oh, we got a really good team, we got a strong team, we got a chance.
But I think honestly, after the Brooklyn series, it was like, All right, we here now. Ain't no need -- we here, we got to go for it. This is it, fellas; this is it. So everybody bought in.
Power Forward/Center: Bobby Portis
Question: The Milwaukee fans have embraced you so much, chanting "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby," all game long. What was it like winning a championship in front of those home fans that have especially embraced you this year?
Answer: Man, it's great. Coming into this situation, you don't know what you're getting yourself into. But to sacrifice, the adjustments -- life is all about adjustments. When you make a decision and do things, you have to really sacrifice in that role.
With me coming here, it's been great. Having great teammates like Giannis, Khris, and Jrue and all the guys that really just believe in you and embrace you. Having great coaches really puts you in a position to succeed. And then having the best fans in the world. We had 80,000, 90,000 to 100,000 people. That's unheard of, to have that many people here supporting and knowing it's a long time since the Bucks have been in this position. They never wavered. They came and supported us. It's a great feeling, man, to be called a champion.
Question: What do you know about the history, the basketball history here, and have you been here long enough to feel like this is a second home to you?
Answer: Sure. I'm from Little Rock, Arkansas, and it has the same type of feel, not a big-city feel. I don't know what the population is here, but it feels like home to me and I would love for it be to home.
I know Sidney Moncrief from here. Fun fact: I and Sidney went to the same high school. He's from Little Rock, Arkansas. We went to the same high school and went to the same college and I'm a Buck now. That's pretty cool.
Question: You told us from the moment you got here why you wanted to come. That's the idea, to be here, but I guess you heard me ask P.J., when did you maybe get a sense that this was the place to come to be sitting where you are?
Answer: I knew it was the right place when I made the decision. I knew it was right with my agent. Fun fact, like a fun little quick story. During free agency -- actually, before free agency, the Knicks turned down my team option and they wanted to sign me to another deal and it was pretty nice money. But I wasn't really worried about the money. You know, sometimes money isn't everything. It's about happiness. That's one thing God taught me as a rookie: Happiness is what it is. I found happiness here. When I first got here, I felt welcome and I felt loved. The guys made me at home and the coaches made me comfortable.
It was a nice place, an easy system for me to fit in. I get to be myself every day, just be energetic. The Guys on my team, are kind of quiet guys. There are not many guys like me that are outgoing and really bring what I bring to the table with energy and things like that.
I just thought it was a match made in heaven. I'm a guy that, whether I'm making shots or missing shots going out there and giving 110 percent to the team. I put my body on the line every day, sacrifice. Being around these guys taught me a lot. I've learned how to win again. I haven't won in a long time, but it sure feels good now.
Question: You have a decision to make, business-wise and happiness-wise. Did you anticipate this is a place you want to stay for next year?
Answer: I haven't really thought about it, but it sure is, man. I love the Bobby chants: "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby." I wouldn't trade that for the world. I'm from Little Rock, Arkansas. The population of my town isn't that big. I want to rep it through and through. Coming from where I come from, all the interviews I do, it's a blessing to be in this position, to inspire kids from where I'm from to one day be me.
It's always a long journey in this league, man. You never know what you're getting yourself into, but my journey has brought me to Milwaukee and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but right now, I'm just worried about being called a champion and knowing where I come from. This has been a long journey to get to this point. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Question: Brook was up here talking about the selflessness and sacrifices you all make. What was it like when you weren't getting your run or your minutes?
Answer: When you're on a championship-caliber team, when you're on a team that has championship aspirations, sacrifice is the biggest thing. I'm a guy that always had featured plays on my other teams I played on. I got plays called for me on the block. I got plays called for me to shoot the ball. I ain't had one play all year. I always dig the sacrifice.
So when you want to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy or wear these hats or shirts and say you're the champion, no one can take that from you. You have to sacrifice and learn how to be a star in your role. I had to learn to play off guys and do things and really hit my shots because I go from getting 12, 13, 14 shots on teams I played on to eight, nine shots here.
You know, it's all about sacrifice in life, man. When you want to get something out of something, when you want to win in life and win in whatever job you're doing, you have to sacrifice. I learned that this year and I learned how to win again. I learned how to impact winning. Get big offensive rebounds, kick-outs, getting 50/50 balls, learning how to play defense. Guys really questioned my defense, but I don't think you're really going to be questioning that no more at all.
Center: Brook Lopez
Shooting Guard: Pat Connaughton
Question: You've been through a few ups and downs in your career, to get to this point, what was going through your mind as the clock ran down?
Brook Lopez: Obviously, I'm just overjoyed right now but I'm happy for my teammates, you know, the staff, everyone who has worked so hard for this past year, past three years, depending on who they were. Everyone put in the work, put in the trust for one another and Coach Bud created such a great culture, a family, and everything like that. I just love all my guys. I'm happy for everyone.
Question: Have you become invested in the city since you've been here? What is it like for you guys to win this championship in front of the home crowd, especially since no Milwaukee team has won a championship on city soil?
Pat Connaughton: It's incredible. The fans have supported us through thick and thin. They have had our backs as we fought adversity and as we were down 2-0 in this series and down 2-0 in other series.
Just the support you felt in the city throughout this entire playoff run was incredible and to be able to do it and win it and be able to call ourselves world champions in front of our home fans, however many, 17,000, 18,000 in the arena, whoever knows how many were outside the arena, I saw people climbing up on poles and everything.
It's incredible and, the city of Milwaukee deserves it and so I'm just proud that I could be part of a team with my teammates that gave it to them.
Question: For you to have just like something tangible that you can point to and serve as a reward for everything you've been through, what does it mean to you to have that?
Brook Lopez: It's incredible. It's a testament to the team. I'm a team guy. I've always been a team guy. And so you know, like I was saying earlier, it's something that all our guys deserve, and to see them persevere, we went 0-2 against Brooklyn, 0-1 against Atlanta, and 0-2 to open the series against the Suns, and to see our guys fight back and make adjustments and keep that belief in one another, that's special and not something you get with everything team.
I've seen that through my 13 years in the league that this team is absolutely one of a kind and I am just fortunate and pleased to be part of that.
Question: Since you don't want to talk about yourself, I'll ask you to talk about Giannis because you're good at it and you tend to really let it go. Fifty points in a close-out game of the NBA Finals, can you put that into words?
Brook Lopez: I don't know how many words you need to use beyond 50 points in a close-out game in an NBA Finals. Pretty much sums it all up. It's so indicative of who Giannis is as a player, as a person. He had to -- he has that mindset always to just take care of business and he's been our leader throughout my time.
To have him as a focal point of everything we do and the way he goes about it, it's just contagious with the whole team, and he's so impressive night-in and night-out.
I mean, I told you before, this is stuff you don't want to take for granted. But that's Giannis. That's what he does, and it's just, I mean, completely awe-inspiring. His performance tonight, this whole series, this whole year, there are no words for that. You've just got to look at the numbers.
Question: You all certainly know a lot better than anybody else what Giannis was going through physically since the Hawks game with the injury. How much was he hurting and what was he having to go through to get on the floor and play the way he has these last couple of weeks?
Pat Connaughton: You know, I don't know, but I know that he put himself in a position to get back. He did what he does. He's a freak. He's always been a freak, and the things that he does in the weight room, the things that he does in physical therapy, the things he does to put his body in a position to go through the beating he goes through on a nightly basis, couple that with a hyperextended knee, for him to be back in a game in the Finals, in general, was freakish.
And then for him to do what he did throughout this Finals was incredible. It's kind of as Brook said, it's awesome to have a front-row seat to it and awesome to watch it and it's incredible because he's an even better human being than he is a basketball player. We've all seen what he does on the biggest stage now after winning his first NBA Finals championship and being the Finals MVP, but he's an even better person.
So, to go out there and lay it on the line and have our back both when he was in the games when he came back from the hyperextended knee, but how vocal he was during the games that he missed that got us to the Finals, just shows growth in leadership and shows that he's one of a kind.
Question: I know if you won 65 games it would be just as satisfying if you were sitting here, but knowing what you started to do this season with COVID and the pandemic and the changes to schemes and systems and what Bud did and what the coaches asked you individually to do, can you process that right now?
Brook Lopez: I honestly think all that stuff that you mentioned, the COVID, the new schemes, things like that, new players, a lot of that uncertainty and those differences, they made all the difference. That's what made us better, going through all that absolutely I think prepared us for this journey.
And again, you know, we had our backs against the wall multiple times and I think we can absolutely look back on those earlier moments in the season and see where we grew as a team as individual players and all that paid off in the long run.
Question: P.J. talked the other day about how it's been everybody up and down the roster, Giannis mentioned the rookies and guys making plays that are on the stats sheet or not. When did you sense the total buy-in? Was it early in camp?
Pat Connaughton: That's just the character of the team that we have. You know, it's the group of guys that make up the Milwaukee Bucks and not just the players but the coaches, the management, the ownership.
At the end of the day, the guys that have been here for three years, we've had a taste of it, of what it looks like in the regular season, Brook and I's first year where he got a look at what it was like to get to the Eastern Conference Finals and take a lead, but everything Brook just mentioned and some of the adversity from four or five-game losing streaks we had in the regular season to lose those games, but not see the character of the team waver. We came together stronger and had each other's backs more and that's what makes up a championship-caliber roster and team and that's what wins you a championship.
That is what made us better is just the character of the guys, the characters of guys like Brook, the characters of guys like P.J. and Bobby, and guys that they don't really care what it looks like on the stats sheet. They just want to make winning plays. They want to be out playing and putting themselves in the best position to be in.
Brook Lopez: If I can piggyback off PC for a second, you talk about that unselfishness, but Bobby went from not playing in the Brooklyn series, essentially the last three or four games, whatever it was, I'm not exactly sure, but to be such a huge contributor in the Atlanta series, in this series against Phoenix; that's the kind of selflessness and unselfishness that the entire team has.
I'm just using that as an example obviously but guys are not concerned about their minutes. Not concerned whether they are playing out on the perimeter, in the post, whatever it is. You just have to buy into your roles, and we did have that complete buy-in that you mentioned.
Question: With Giannis, how have you seen him change or grow, and what's different?
Pat Connaughton: I would just say I've seen his growth as a vocal leader in the three years. Everyone can see the physical transformation he's made since the beginning and everyone can see the growth he's made in his skill set over the years.
Everyone can see the hard work he puts in physically and he has always been our leader but vocally he's taking great steps forward. He knows when and how to use his voice and he knows that guys respond to his voice and I think over the three years that would probably be the biggest thing I've seen.
And I think it showed its head most in that Atlanta series when he was he was on the bench and doing stuff like, doesn't always happen in the NBA, they are not always pulling guys aside and coming out to make sure he talks before we go out on the court.
Question: This climb up the mountain, one of the differences in the series, you nearly doubled the number of offensive rebounds that Phoenix had and I know that -- to really move the offensive rebounds, how much of a weapon was that for you all in the series and do you think it had a key role in turning the series at some point?
Brook Lopez: Yeah, because you know, we definitely, obviously have a lot of guys who were super capable and I'm sitting right next to one of them, made an absolute difference on the offensive boards throughout the entire season. That shows Bud’s willingness to adapt, to change because our whole system, we had that overhaul in the offseason, we went from five-out to having that dunker spot and he was encouraging the guys to go in and crash the offensive glass as much as they possibly could and it made a huge difference. It completely changed the way we play ball games.
A special thanks to ASAP Sports and NBA Media Central, who aided with Closed Captioning. The Milwaukee Bucks will receive their championship rings in October. Make sure to tune into the ensuing 2021-2022 NBA season to see if the Bucks can be back-to-back NBA World Champions!