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Giannis Antetokounmpo: 'Some days it's not your turn.' Alamy Stock Photo
ANALYSIS

The commonality and subtle differences between John Kiely and Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Limerick boss and Milwaukee star both took issue with the media narrative, but challenged it in contrasting ways.

I

There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn, and that’s what sport’s about. You don’t always win, some other people are going to win and this year somebody else is going to win. Simple as that. We’re going to come back next year and try to be better, try to build good habits, try to play better, not have a 10-day stretch [where] we play bad basketball, you know, and hopefully we can win a championship. So, 50 years from 1971 to 2021 that we didn’t win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No, it was not. It was steps to it, you know, and we were able to win one, hopefully we can win another one. 

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

 

II

NBA press conferences are fertile ground for social media interaction. 

Ahead of the final game of the San Antonio Spurs’ season a few weeks ago, legendary coach Gregg Popovich received nationwide coverage after he spent nine minutes criticising US politicians for their mishandling of gun control legislation. Late last year, a video clip of the eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving arguing with an ESPN reporter about social media posts concerning an Alex Jones conspiracy video and an antisemitic movie garnered millions of views. 

Throw in the exchange of barbs between opposing players that regularly takes place and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s comments last week possessed an openness which is not all that unusual.

The league’s consistent ability to draw attention toward off-court activities is a reflection of its participants; sportspeople who feel comfortable communicating points of view that attempt to circumvent the barrier which exists between those inside and outside the NBA. 

 

III

Supremely wealthy and talented, professional basketball players and coaches are not ordinary people. 

Misguided – to put it kindly – though Irving was in that aforementioned instance, his ultimate frustration was in how he perceived the reporter’s attempt to remind him of that distinction: 

Reporter: “To follow up on the promotion of the movie and the book . . .”

Irving: “Can you please stop calling it a promotion? What am I promoting?”

Reporter: “You put it out on your platform.”

Irving: “But I’m promoting it? Do you see me doing . . .” 

Reporter: “By putting it out there people are going to say that you are promoting it.” 

Irving: “Yeah, I put it out there, just like you put things out there, right?”

Reporter: “Yeah, but I . . . ”

Irving: “OK, you put thing out there for a living, right?”  

Reporter: “Right, but my stuff is not filled with antisemitic stuff.”

Irving: “Let’s move on, let’s move on. Don’t dehumanise me up here.”

An imperfect analogy given the differences in what was being discussed, Giannis, like Irving, was nonetheless adamant in stressing that there is life beyond the court for these professional sportspeople. 

Even though his Bucks had just suffered a surprise Playoffs exit against the No 8 seed Miami Heat, a reporter introducing the prospect that their NBA season could be considered a failure was read as too finite an assessment of what constitutes a player’s being. 

Overly sensitive after a bad defeat, perhaps, Giannis’s comments nevertheless attempted to bridge the philosophical gap between those participating in the game and those observing it. 

For all that divides the one exclusive camp from the more routine alternative, he wanted to demonstrate that what bonds both sides together is a shared humanity that ought not to be overlooked in favour of professional success, or failure. 

Be it something you’re playing, coaching, covering as a journalist or watching as a supporter, Giannis attempted to highlight that sport itself is the meaningful other. The variety of ways in which people interact with it should not be regarded as a definitive assessment of how their life is progressing. 

 

IV

I knew this was going to be a really tight game, am I the only one that’s [not] surprised about the result here today? What’s the problem like? Waterford are a fantastic side.

  • John Kiely, speaking after Limerick’s 1-18 to 0-19 defeat of Waterford

 

V

Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t reveal if he had heard John Kiely’s comments made a few days before the Bucks’ exit. 

Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Frustrated by elements of Limerick’s performance against Waterford, Kiely appeared simultaneously perturbed that his team would receive no meaningful praise for their two-point victory on the opening weekend of the Munster hurling championship. 

As he saw it, four All-Ireland wins in five years had brought with it an external belief that Limerick are all but unbeatable. Kiely raged against what he perceived as an external misreading of the championship’s competitiveness and a misunderstanding of the challenges any great team faces during a period of relentless success.  

Although his suggestion that there was a concerted “softening up exercise” being carried out by the media at Limerick’s expense is wide of the mark, it has nevertheless been commonly agreed that the most notable thing his team could do this year is lose. 

“It’s not possible to insulate them from it at all, never mind fully,” responded Kiely to the suggestion that he could possibly protect his players from this kind of talk. “They live in the real world, they’ve to go to work every day . . . you can’t block them off.” 

What wasn’t said – but seemed implicit in his decision to explore the question in such frank detail – is that Kiely himself may be feeling pressurised by expectations that are so far removed from what even he could have envisioned when first taking on the job in late 2016. 

Or, perhaps, Kiely was attempting to do the opposite of what Giannis sought to communicate; erect a psychological barrier between his team and those outside of it who have no possible idea what is required to sustain such sporting success. 

 

VI

If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.

  • Advice given by Nikita Khrushchev to Richard Nixon 

 

VII

It is unknown what bearing – if any – the external talk has had on Limerick as they proceeded to lose against Clare last weekend.  

No more than their narrow defeat of Waterford was laced with both imperfections and a doggedness in some challenging conditions, Limerick’s narrower defeat to Clare possessed elements of good and bad play. 

aidan-mccarthy-celebrates Clare players celebrate while a disappointed Kyle Hayes walks on. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Results, however, tend to sway perspective one way or the other depending which way they fall. 

Had the Bucks overcome the Heat as expected, Giannis, who missed large portions of the series through injury, would not have tempered the satisfaction of an expected victory with talk of sport’s endless opportunities to learn from defeat so that the team may be successful again. 

Although it will have pained him to be proven right on the matter, Kiely’s attempts to play down Limerick’s apparent supremacy seemed all the more pertinent for the defeat that followed.  

 

VIII

Giannis’s comments largely seemed to find a receptive audience, but not exclusively so. 

“If you say I played 20 years and failed in 16 of them, I’d say you’re right,” remarked four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal in an insightful discussion on TNT’s Inside The NBA, “cause I was expected since ’92, being the first pick, to be the best big man in the league and to win all the time, right? 

“You use the word failure and it comes with negative connotations and it may sound bad, but us athletes, that’s how we think.”  

O’Neal’s highly respectful retort demonstrated that there are more ways than one to approach expectation then. Although the worlds of inter-county hurling and professional basketball are limited in their likeness, the purpose of Kiely’s comments seem more in keeping with Shaq’s outlook. 

In stating that his Limerick team can be beaten on any given day, Kiely acknowledged the number of times that the likes of Clare, Galway, Kilkenny, Waterford and others have come close to beating them in pivotal games. Indeed, though the defeat to Clare will have pained him, it was not detrimental in the way he will be striving to avoid. 

What his comments also served to illustrate then is that for as close as others have come no team has managed to beat Limerick in a game of true significance since the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. 

Yes, Limerick are beatable, as he said. But why can’t anyone get the job done when it matters? 

In season-ending defeat, Giannis Antetokounmpo opted to stress the importance of life beyond sport. With the championship season in full swing, John Kiely wanted his team to remember that though external expectations may be overblown, Limerick have the proven ability to bend the narrative in their favour. 

If a period of sustained success sometimes gives cause to ignite a fresh sense of purpose, Kiely has reminded his players that when they are dealing with friends, family and co-workers later this year it may as well be with another All-Ireland medal in their possession. 

 

 

 

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