A Look Inside the Bucks’ White House Visit

President Biden spoke about the Bucks’ championship victory and the team’s stand “for justice and peace.”

The celebration of the Milwaukee Bucks’ first NBA title in 50 years continued Monday afternoon with a ceremony at the White House led by President Joe Biden.

The Bucks are a model of “pride and decency” in sports, Biden said. “You represented yourselves, your families and your organization and a great American city by staying true to who you are.”

He praised the team’s fortitude for twice rallying from 0-2 deficits, against the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Final, on the way to winning the title.

“You never gave up. It was amazing how you came back,” Biden said.

He then focused his attention on Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Finals MVP, who poured in 50 points in the deciding game against Phoenix even after suffering what appeared to be a serious knee injury a few games earlier.

“Giannis, 50 points,” Biden said, before an extended pause to recognize the gravity of the accomplishment. “Fifty points to seal game six and win the Bucks their first championship in 50 years.” 

Biden also noted that an enduring image from the NBA Finals is the thousands of fans who gathered in the Deer District outside Fiserv Forum to cheer on the team.

He began the ceremony by recognizing former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who sold the team in 2014.

“He’s one of the finest guys I served with,” Biden said of the former U.S. senator, who was unable to attend the ceremony.

The president directed his attention at one point to Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo, who hails from Biden’s home state of Delaware. DiVincenzo was named the state’s Player of the Year in 2015 before going on to win two NCAA titles at Villanova University, the school where Biden’s wife, Jill, attended graduate school.

By much of the focus, of course, centered on Antetokounmpo, a two-time regular season MVP and five-time All-Star who recently, at age 26, was named to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team.

“You are just getting started,” Biden said. “What makes it even more special is you won the title with your brother [Thanasis], and you joined another brother [Kostas] already with a ring. I think you won the gene pool.”

Biden spoke of Antetokounmpo’s well-documented story of a Nigerian immigrant who was raised in Athens in a family that constantly struggled to make ends meet.

“I know your mom is so proud of you and your dad is looking down watching over you,” Biden said. “And your baby boys will grow up knowing anything is possible. That’s the power of this team’s example, not just winning a title.”

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Antetokounmpo, known affectionately among Bucks’ fans as “the Greek Freak,” stepped to the podium to express his gratitude.

“This is awesome. I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to be in the White House, meeting the president of the United States.”

He thanked the families associated with the team, as well as the fans, who turned out in droves to support the team during the playoff run.

“We have the best fans in the world,” Antetokounmpo said. “They supported us when we were the worst team in the NBA and eight years later when we are the best team in the NBA. We couldn’t do it without them.”

The Bucks drive to an NBA title can serve as example, he said.

“With hard work, sacrifices and if you dedicated yourself and wake up every single day and try to get better in anything you do and anything you love and believe in your dreams, you can accomplish great things in life,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m in the White House. You can never take moments like this for granted. Without hard work that would not be possible.”

The Bucks dedication to causes off the court has also been impressive, Biden said.

He pointed to the team taking a stand “for justice and peace” in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha in August 2020. Kenosha erupted into chaos following the shooting of Blake, who is Black, by a white officer. 

“You’ve also gotten people engaged in the political process and you encouraged fans to get vaccinated,” Biden said.

Biden specifically mentioned the work of Bucks guard Jrue Holiday and his wife, Lauren, for promoting the importance of vaccines.

The Bucks, who remained in the nation’s capital after playing the Washington Wizards on Sunday, were the first NBA champions to be honored at the White House since 2016 when the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James met with President Barack Obama. The tradition started with the Boston Celtics being honored by President John Kennedy in 1963.

“Today, I’m honored to welcome the Milwaukee Bucks to continue that tradition,” Biden said. “In sport and in democracy, unity is perhaps the most elusive thing and the most necessary thing. But that’s who this team is. They are unified. You worked together and watching you has been incredible.”

The team presented Biden with a Bucks jersey emblazoned with the No. 46 – Biden is the 46th president.

“It’s been a real honor for us as a team and for everything that we stand for and everything that we’ve done, but it’s actually really cool to win a championship,” Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry said. “You get to come to the White House. Hopefully, we’ll come back again next year.”

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.