“I mean, what else am I supposed to say? Let’s try our best and hopefully we win a game?”
Brandon Jennings is not Joe Namath, and the 2012-2013 Milwaukee Bucks are not the 1968 New York Jets, and the Miami Heat are not the Baltimore Colts, no matter how apt comparing LeBron James and Johnny Unitas may be.
Ever since Broadway Joe and his scrappy AFL upstarts unseated the NFL’s mighty Baltimore Colts (of the late 1960s) to make good on Namath’s infamous guarantee, professional athletes promising wins has been en vogue, albeit to varying levels of success.
Fo, fo, fo, Babe Ruth’s called shot, and Plaxico Burress predicting a New York Giants victory over an undefeated Patriots team stick out for their accuracy. Jerramy Stevens in Detroit, Dan Gilbert promising a Cavaliers title team before a James-led Heat title, and Matt Hasselbeck wanting the ball and going to score do not.
Add Jennings to the latter list.
The Bucks “star” point guard claimed Milwaukee would defeat the defending champions in six games before the series started, and was roundly mocked by fans and the media for it, something it turns out he deserved.
Jennings and the Bucks had won nearly half of their last 15 games against Miami heading into the series, a respectable showing, if not spectacular. Last year the LA Kings began the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a No. 8 seed and ended it hoisting Lord Stanley’s coveted mug.
So what else was Jennings supposed to say?
When asked about his bold prediction just before game one of the series he responded with the quote that leads off this story. In full it reads as follows:
“I mean, what else am I supposed to say? Let’s try our best and hopefully we win a game? Nah. I mean, you’re supposed to say, I want to win. At the end of the day, everybody is writing us off anyway. So I don’t know why my comments are so like crazy, like ‘I can’t believe he said that’. Everybody is writing us off anyway, so I’m just defending our team.”
So were Jennings’ comments so crazy? Well, yes, yes they were. In the NFL wild card teams have regularly found themselves as Super Bowl champions, the same in MLB. In the NHL parity in the playoffs is perhaps most pronounced relative to the size of the field, as No. 8 seeds such as the aforementioned Kings won it all and the 2006 Edmonton Oilers made the finals from the same seeding. In the NBA only four times has an No. 8 seed even advanced to the second round, with the 1998-1999 Knicks being the only one to reach the Finals, which happened in a strike-shortened season where New York went 27-23 in the regular season, well above Milwaukee’s season win percentage for 2012-2013.
Beyond all that, the Bucks were facing a historically great Heat team, one that rattled off a brain-melting 27 consecutive wins from the start of February to late March. These Heat are also the defending champions and feature three sure-fire Hall of Famers and a fourth guy with a pretty good shot at enshrinement. The Bucks haven’t had a player selected to the All-Star game since Michael Redd in 2003-2004.
So yeah, the Bucks were doomed, and Miami put them out of their misery in four quick and decisive victories. But should we really give Jennings a hard time for believing in his team? For trying to instill some confidence and swagger?
What Jennings did is something Bucks fans have been asking him to do for years (as a Bucks fan and a Jennings fan, I would know), which is to be a leader. His ongoing contract issues and even more ongoing chucker playing style have given him a bit of a negative reputation, one that hurts all the more when compared to some of the breathtaking highlights he has shown himself to be capable of.
On one hand he is a player that scored 55 points just a few weeks into his NBA career, on the other he is a career 39% shooter from the floor on a team that features another high-usage guard in Monta Ellis. He is also a point guard that has never averaged more than 6.5 assists per game despite showing a deft passing touch this past season, and he enters this offseason as a restricted free agent that Milwaukee may very well have no problem parting with.
So for him to step up is huge. For him to put himself on the line for his team is bigger. It shows maturity and leadership Bucks fans and management have been begging to see for years. It also may be enough for Milwaukee to finally get him the contract he thinks he deserves. Whether or not he can take a next step and pull the Bucks out of the sandpit of mediocrity they have been residing in for over a the decade is a whole other issue, but his recent statements are at least a promising step in that direction.
Besides, what else was he supposed to say?