It is, for now, nothing but a number, and a rather small one at that.
Which hasn’t stopped it from being quite the big deal. And the Milwaukee Bucks are counting on it becoming even bigger.
“Pick #2” is the latest Bucks catchphrase, splashed around their redesigned website and celebrated in emails sent out to “Bucks Stakeholders.”
It is their prize from Tuesday night's NBA Draft Lottery, which was their prize for suffering through the worst season in franchise history. It is a symbol of hope that things will get better, and a symbol of how far away they may be from better. It is a marketing tool, and a reminder of how just much the Bucks need to aggressively market every piece of good news.
It is also the coming-out party for Milwaukee’s new ownership team of Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “This is our first milestone as owners,” they wrote in that email, which was colloquially signed as Wes & Marc, “and a huge step forward in bringing a championship to Milwaukee.” They made it a family affair by involving their children, letting Alex Lasry serve as the club’s witness to the pingpong ball pull and putting Mallory Edens on national TV for the big reveal. Both kids must have done their job, otherwise the Bucks would be trying to market the far-less enticing “Pick #4.”
Equally notable were the Bucks players who were invited to the lottery party – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight. It was a clear sign that ownership sees them as integral to the team’s future, and perhaps a subtle message to other players like Larry Sanders and John Henson that they may not be. Another youngblood will be here soon, another face in that portrait of the future.
This is what the vista looks like after the first steps into Milwaukee’s monumental crossroads. And it is impossible to see the Bucks walking the status-quo route, leaving them an oft-forgotten, oft-mediocre team playing in a half-empty Bradley Center. No, from here, it’s a case of for better or worse.
The branch paved with optimism leads to a future of youth-fueled excitement, growth into victories, an exit ramp to a new arena and, for the most optimistic, realistic talk of that championship. The darker path swoops past a failed rebuilding project, a further erosion of the fan base, insurmountable arena roadblocks and extinction for Milwaukee’s Bucks.
Before the draft lottery, you could sense some of that traditional Bucks pessimism permeating the city. On Twitter and on the talk-radio airwaves, fans predict how the unlucky Bucks would get bounced to the fourth pick by uncooperative pingpong balls, or by nefarious NBA conspiracies that favored big-market teams. They’d be denied their future star and left with a leftover, yet another blow to the battered and tattered franchise’s hopes.
Then came Pick No. 2, which wasn’t the No. 1 they’d hoped for, but was plenty good enough. And today, on those same Twitter feeds and talk-radio airwaves, instead of pessimistic predictions and conspiracy theories, the talk is of the future. People want that number to become a name.
But more to the point, people want to talk about the Bucks. In May.
That’s no small progress.