WASHINGTON — The Milwaukee Bucks became the first NBA team to visit the White House in almost five years Monday, when they were honored for winning the 2021 NBA title, and said they were excited to restart what had previously been an annual tradition.
“You grow up and you watch games, you watch the playoffs, you see teams win championships, and it’s just always part of that post celebration to see teams going to the White House,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “It’s amazing and humbling to be part of that tradition. It’s very cool.”
It’s a tradition that had been placed on hold since the Cleveland Cavaliers were honored at the White House five years ago this Wednesday. That visit came shortly after former president Donald Trump had been elected, but while former president Barack Obama was still in office.
During Trump’s tenure in the White House, NBA teams did not make the trip, as he sparred with players over his policies.
While Obama is an avid basketball fan, Biden is an avid fan of his home state of Delaware. That led to him spending an extended portion of his remarks Monday speaking about Bucks guard — and fellow Delaware native — Donte DiVincenzo.
“He won two state championships there,” Biden said with a smile. “So he’s used to this stuff.”
DiVincenzo, who was good-naturedly — but relentlessly — teased about the attention by teammates Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez during their press availability after the ceremony, said the experience was humbling.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” DiVincenzo said. “It was a humbling experience, for one, to see somebody from Delaware in the presidency, and two, to be here with the team, win a championship, be here to celebrate that.
“[But] to be singled out and talked about like that was a really humbling experience.”
Biden also credited the Bucks for their decision last year to engage in a wildcat strike and not play in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, highlighting the racial injustices they saw in Black communities.
“You took a stand for justice and peace in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and you’ve gotten people engaged,” Biden said.
He also credited two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo for his impressive rise from growing up in Athens, Greece, to reaching the pinnacle of his sport.
“At just 26 years old, you’re just getting started,” Biden said. “What makes it even more special is you won the title with your brother, who is here today. And you join another brother already with a ring. What a hell of a family. Sons living the dream of an immigrant family from Nigeria and then Greece in search of new opportunity. In struggles, they always dreamed. Brothers who once had to share the same basketball shoes, all five of them, before they got to the NBA.”
After Biden’s remarks, Bucks owner Marc Lasry said that he and his team are ready to keep coming back to celebrate for the next several years.
“What the hell, why don’t we come back for the next four years?” Lasry said. “Let’s do it for eight years.”
Antetokounmpo, who had said Sunday that he’d prepared a speech, then took the microphone and spoke about how honored he was to be at the White House.
“On behalf of my teammates, the coach staff, the Bucks organization, we are very grateful for this opportunity,” Antetokounmpo said. “You know, a kid from Sepolia, Athens, Greece, grew up from two Nigerian parents. They were struggling every day to provide for us — illegal in a — a country. They didn’t go home at the time.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity to be able to be in the White House meeting the president of the United States. I could not be as honored and happy that something like this ever — ever comes — something like this in my life.”
He later admitted he got emotional hearing Biden speak about his journey to this point, including how he shared shoes with his brothers as a kid.
“I got a little emotional,” Antetokounmpo said. “I know how much [my family] sacrificed because this doesn’t go back eight years. This goes way back since I was a kid.”
The Bucks took advantage of their trip to do more than just celebrate. Several players met with Susan Rice, the director of the United States Domestic Policy Council, to discuss criminal justice reform, police reform and voting rights. One of them was Holiday, who told ESPN it was a “great conversation.”
“The conversation was awesome,” Holiday said. “She just told us about things they are doing, and she also wanted to hear from us.
“One of the biggest things for us is just to be heard. So we got to ask some questions, ask what we can do to push things forward, what we want to do going forward, so it was a really great conversation.”