A Tale of Two Franchises
On June 24th, 1998 the Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks made a draft-day trade that would forever alter the course of both franchises. The Mavericks drafted Robert "Tractor" Taylor with the 6th overall pick and traded him to the Bucks for Dirk Nowitzki, drafted 9th, and Pat Garrity drafted 19th. Garrity would be sent to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for backup point guard, Steve Nash.
At the time, Traylor was a force in the front-court. As a Michigan Wolverine, he'd go on to help lead his team to an NIT championship and win the NIT's MVP award in 1997. However, both the championship and award would be vacated years later when one of Michigans boosters was tied to money laundering and lending money to players, one of which, was Traylor.
A different trajectory.
Traylor would go on to play only 93 games for the Bucks. He bounced around the league for a few years before heading overseas to play, where his last stop was playing for a team in Puerto Rico. It was there in May of 2011, while on the phone with his wife, he would tragically die of a heart attack in his apartment.
Nearly opposite the career of Traylor's, is Nowitzki's. He played in 1,522 games, over 21 seasons for the Mavericks. He scored 31,560 points, was named to 14 all-star teams, 12 All-NBA teams, won a regular-season MVP award, a championship, and a finals MVP. He not only became the face of the franchise, he was the franchise.
What truly made Nowitzki stand out, outside of his ability to redefine the power forward position, was that he remained loyal to the franchise that believed in him. Multiple times throughout his career, he could have left, or at the very least commanded a larger contract financially. However, he stayed to finish what he started.
A similar pattern.
The Milwaukee Bucks find themselves following a familiar path of the early 2000's Mavericks. They have a versatile superstar on their hands in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who, like Nowitzki, took a few years to find his place in the league. Since Antetokounmpo has come into his own, the Bucks too, are a perennial lock for the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo can guard pretty much every position 1-5 on the floor. Once he has started to drive to the basket, he's nearly impossible to stop. Beyond his basketball abilities and physical tools, he's arguably one of the most likable guys in the league. He's the type of player that you can drop into any team currently and be a fit within the structure of their roster.
All of these things tend to lend themselves to every fanbase claiming why he'd be better off leaving the Bucks and joining the team they root for. It's also why rumors have been swirling around for the past season or so calling for Antetokounmpo to leave for greener pastures.
The conversation continues.
Recently in a game between the Golden State Warriors and the Milwaukee Bucks, Antetokounmpo shared a conversation with Steph Curry. The rumor radar went off, and the conversation continued around the possibility of Antetokounmpo leaving once again.
This talk probably will not stop until a new contract is signed. Back in September of 2016, Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million extension with the Bucks. With that extension slated to end after the 2020/2021 season, Bucks fans are going to have to bide their time until it's over.
For Dallas fans, watching Nowitzki play out his entire career in a Mavericks uniform was a privilege. He was a rare breed. Regardless of roster turnover, or how the season would unfold, you could count on having a superstar that was easy to root for. Milwaukee fans feel the same way about their superstar.
Nowitzki at least had the benefit of social media rumblings playing little to no effect on his decision making, or that of his fanbase. For NBA players today, that's not necessarily the case. Antetokounmpo isn't going to base a decision on a tweet that goes viral, but the chances of that tweet adding extra anxiety to a fanbase who desperately wants him to stay, are higher than they should be.
The face of the franchise.
As a Dallas fan who has spent the majority of his life rooting for Nowitzki, if Antetokounmpo were to announce today that he was going to sign with the Mavericks the first chance he got, I'd be ecstatic. I'd welcome him with open arms. However, deep down, I know the sports hurt that would be caused by the player I love the most moving on to another team.
Although I didn't experience it with the Mavericks, I can imagine the despair that would go through the minds of a fanbase to see the name "Antetokounmpo" on the back of another jersey. He should stay a Buck and become a franchise lifer. He has the ability to stay in the league a long time. As of now, only eight guys have spent their entire career, of at least 16 (or more) seasons, with one franchise.
Giannis is not only the face of the franchise, he is the franchise.