When the Milwaukee Greenbacks confirmed up for coaching camp on Sunday, Khris Middleton introduced his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo with a present for his 26th birthday: a pen. Antetokounmpo didn’t perceive its importance to start with.
“Then I used to be interested by it, and I spotted he was once short of me to signal the contract,” he stated.
Antetokounmpo were given the comic story. He concept it was once humorous. However as extra teammates arrived and so they persisted to bestow him with pens, he it sounds as if stopped giggling.
“It were given a bit of bit outdated,” he stated. “I’ve were given 20 pens right here in my locker.”
The issue is that Antetokounmpo has no longer used any of them for his or her meant objective. He has till Dec. 21 to signal a so-called supermax contract extension that may be value about $227 million and would run in the course of the 2025-26 season. Barring that, or a extra modest extension, he would develop into an unrestricted unfastened agent subsequent summer season.
Ready is the toughest phase in Milwaukee, which has long gone 49 years because the Greenbacks gained their handiest N.B.A. championship and now has no scarcity of Greek Freak agita. Enthusiasts have watched Antetokounmpo blossom from a spindly-limbed youngster into some of the league’s maximum dynamic forces, a back-to-back winner of the N.B.A.’s Maximum Precious Participant Award.
Now, as the times go and the closing date to get to the bottom of his contract scenario comes into sharper center of attention, Antetokounmpo is protecting town in a state of suspense.
Frank Madden, a control guide and longtime Greenbacks fan who has written and co-hosted podcasts about the team, famous how a cloud were placing over the franchise in contemporary months as a result of the uncertainty surrounding Antetokounmpo, a cloud that had darkened within the wake of every other early go out from the playoffs.
“However now we’ve reached this inflection level the place it’s no longer almost about the nationwide media pronouncing, ‘Does he need to go away?’” Madden stated in a phone interview. “It’s additionally Giannis opening the door to that — or a minimum of no longer slamming it close through signing the extension.”
A lot of that feeling stems from feedback that Antetokounmpo made — or selected to not make — on Wednesday at a digital information convention. Along with revealing that he had a brand new selection of unused pens, Antetokounmpo was once noncommittal about his extension. He stated he was once leaving it as much as his brokers.
“I’m simply specializing in basketball,” he stated. “I do what I like. What I like is taking part in basketball. What I like is making improvements to. What I like helps my teammates. What I like is successful video games. And stale the courtroom, about brokers and contracts, I’m no longer specializing in that. No longer that I don’t care about it. Clearly I care about it. It’s an excessively giant choice in my lifestyles, and most likely some of the greatest choices I’m going to make. However I simply let my agent center of attention on that.”
Antetokounmpo has choices. He may just signal the supermax deal through Dec. 21. He may just signal a shorter-term contract — there’s no closing date for that taste extension — for much less cash. Or he may just choose to not signal the rest in any respect, which might no longer essentially preclude him from signing a supermax extension subsequent summer season.
However it might additionally result in a number of extra months of questions and communal hand-wringing — for lovers and for the Greenbacks’ entrance place of job, which might want to weigh whether or not the crew can be prepared to chance letting him stroll away subsequent summer season with out in quest of any repayment for him in a business.
“For a man who says he simply desires to concentrate on basketball, it might be any such distraction,” Bart Winkler, the host of a morning sports-talk radio show in Milwaukee, said in a telephone interview. “I think we’d all been assuming, whether it was going to be a short contract or a super max, that somehow, someway, he would sign his next contract to stay in Milwaukee. And now, for the first time, there’s some real concern that he might not.”
Other cities have gone through similar ordeals with marquee players. Consider Oklahoma City’s fractured relationship with Kevin Durant after he decided to jump to the Golden State Warriors as a free agent in 2016, or Cleveland’s more nuanced ties to LeBron James, who paralyzed that city more than once as he weighed his future.
“I think it kind of comes with the territory of being a fan of a team that has an elite player,” Madden, the management consultant, said, “and doubly so if you’re following a small-market team. Unfortunately, when your team has a superstar, there’s this double-edged sword of expectations and rumors about where they may go next on the N.B.A. roulette wheel, especially given how transaction-centric the league has become. But as Bucks fans, we haven’t had to go through this pre-Giannis.”
Antetokounmpo is beloved in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin. The sports landscape there is still dominated by the N.F.L.’s Green Bay Packers, but Antetokounmpo has helped lift the Bucks to new levels of popularity since the team drafted him with the 15th overall pick in 2013.
Beyond his talent, Antetokounmpo instantly endeared himself to fans with his charm, his humor, his community outreach and his seeming innocence. As a rookie, he delighted in tasting his first fruit smoothie. “MAN GOD BLESS AMERICA,” he wrote on Twitter, entire with a smiley face emoticon.
Now, he has his personal signature sneaker line with Nike. His rags-to-riches story is being made into a motion picture for Disney. And through extending his contract negotiations and deflecting questions on them, he’s in any case treating basketball like one thing instead of a sport: He’s, in his personal manner, acknowledging that this is a industry.
The stakes may just no longer be upper. The Greenbacks have completed every of the previous two seasons with the league’s highest regular-season document whilst falling quick within the playoffs. In September, they had been ruled through the Miami Warmth of their Japanese Convention semifinal sequence. That was once the instant when town’s collective worry went from a simmer to a boil.
Right through an abridged low season, the Greenbacks progressed their backcourt through obtaining Jrue Vacation, some of the league’s highest two-way guards, from the New Orleans Pelicans. As part of the deal, the Greenbacks despatched the Pelicans 3 long term first-round selections. Vacation is an awesome participant however the Greenbacks overpaid to get him, mortgaging a large bite in their long term as a result of they had been made up our minds to construct out their roster round Antetokounmpo and, through extension, make him happier.
“The base line for Greenbacks lovers is we all know if we don’t win a identify with Giannis, we gained’t have one right here for a protracted, very long time,” Winkler stated. “That’s why everyone seems to be so hectic.”
Complicating issues, the Greenbacks seemed to bungle a deal to land Bogdan Bogdanovic, a forward who wound up with the Atlanta Hawks.
“Nobody wants to win a championship more than me,” Antetokounmpo said. “I can guarantee you that.”
Now, as he mulls his contract, some fans face decisions of their own. Matt Aleithe, a small-business owner from just outside Milwaukee, said he was nearing a deadline to renew his season tickets for 2021-22, when arenas would presumably welcome fans back. Aleithe said he was pleased with the Bucks’ off-season moves — “The team’s better than they were at the end of last season,” he said — but he could not help but wonder whether Antetokounmpo would still be playing for them in a year.
“It’s kind of a big commitment, being a season-ticket holder,” Aleithe said. “There’s just a little more angst among fans these days.”