brandon-jennings-with-son

If you’ve managed to catch any of the Bucks-Heat series thus far — and if so, hopefully you’re turning every game off after three quarters — you’ve probably heard mention of something Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings said about the series a couple days before the playoffs started. The quote came from the Wisconsin Sports Awards ceremonies, where Jennings was presumably asked about the Bucks’ upcoming first round series against the heavily favored Heat. His take on the series? “I’m real confident. I’m sure everybody is writing us off but but I see us winning the series in six.”

After the Bucks lost the first two games of the series in Miami — by a combined 35 points, with Jennings shooting 31 percent — the over-confident point guard was given a chance to retract his initial prediction. He respectfully declined. “I still say six,” he told Craig Sager. “I think we just showed so much [in Game Two]. We just let it slip towards the end … but as a team, we showed a whole lot of improvement.” Brandon looked a little nervous while giving the interview, perhaps, and did allow that the Bucks’ victory in six “might take a little longer,” but for the most part, he held strong in his initial bold prediction.

Well, after last night’s Heat victory in Milwaukee — which, like the first two contests, was a game for about three quarters, until the Heat hit the NOS and just sped away, as they are wont to do — Jennings’ prediction is officially a bust. There’s still a chance that the Bucks come back to take the next four games — though it’s not a particularly big one, considering no team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit in NBA postseason history, and if it ever does happen, it probably won’t be a team as average as the Bucks doing it against a team as outstanding as the Heat — but no matter what happens from here, Bucks in Six is officially a no go.

So the question then becomes: Do we get to make fun of Brandon Jennings for this yet? His prediction was basically laughable from the get go, but there was always that tiny chance that he and the Bucks had been playing possum for the entire season, or that he knew of some secret weapon the Bucks were about to unleash on the Heat for the series (Drew Gooden?), or maybe just that he was going to hire someone to whack LeBron James in the back of the leg with a crowbar in the locker room before Game One and then say mean things to Chris Bosh on the way out. Now that three games have passed and none of those things appear to have been the case, it seems like a pretty good time to start pointing and laughing at No. 3 for Milwaukee.

But there are many NBA fans out there who think even now that Jennings should be spared such public shaming, and that we probably shouldn’t even be paying attention to this at all. Their argument appears to be largely based around two fairly worthwhile points:

1. Who cares?
2. What’s he supposed to say, “Heat in four?”

To the first point, there’s not really much to say in response — except that, well, I do. Indeed, this is very low-stakes stuff. Brandon Jennings is hardly the first pro athlete in history to make an unreasonable prediction about his future team or individual success, and at least he didn’t use words like “promise” or “guarantee” whilst prognosticating. It doesn’t register as smack talk, really, and the Heat (Dwyane Wade especially) have failed to rise to the non-existent bait in response, writing Jennings’ prediction off as the media white noise that it is. It’s true that the only reason this is a story at all is because we need something to talk about in a series this uneventful.

But for me, at least, that’s a good enough reason to talk about it. Jennings has certainly not shied away from his initial prediction, repeating it in the above video clip for the TNT cameras before the series, and then of course sticking with it after the Bucks’ first two road losses. He seems to really want to give us something to chew on for this series, a reason to pay attention to his team (and to his individual play in particular) during a series that most casual viewers NBA would likely choose either to skip or to watch solely to enjoy LeBron, Wade and company stomping on some basketball mortals. If he’s really putting it out there, potentially for the betterment of his own exposure (prior to his impending free agency, no less), then I’m willing to play along.

For the second, I think it’s not either giving Jennings too much or not enough credit to assume that he didn’t know what he was doing when he made that specific prediction. Every notable player for an underdog team in postseason history was most likely asked at least once whether they thought their team had a shot in the series, but as Steve Kerr and Marv Albert discussed on last night’s broadcast, the thing to do in that situation to sound confident without drawing undue attention to yourself would be to express optimism while keeping the terms vague, saying something like “I feel good about our team’s chances,” or “I think we’ve got a real shot” or something like that. By saying “Bucks in six,” Jennings is being boastful enough to make headlines, while still being practical enough (“Six” instead of “Four”) that it seems like he’s given it real thought — it’s an extremely calculated, purposeful answer.

And not that I’m criticizing Jennings for doing so, necessarily. Some may take the D-Wade eye-shrug approach to any and all such athlete predictions, but personally, I very much enjoy the bold predictions, feeding into the storylines of the series, and I think that it’s fair and right that when an athlete makes such a prediction and it comes true — like, say, when Rasheed Wallace guaranteed a Game Two victory for the Pistons against the Pacers in the 2004 East Finals — that it becomes part of the lore of that series, and for the backstory of that particular player. For better or worse, it’s an important part of sports culture, especially as far as the postseason is concerned.

However, this only works if it goes both ways, and that includes consequences for players who get their predictions wrong, especially if they’re horribly wrong, as it appears Jennings will end up being. Not that these “consequences” will have any real world impact — I’m not saying that he should be fined by David Stern for his transgressions, though really, that would be kind of awesome and hilarious, wouldn’t it? — but just as it would merit a sentence on Jennings’ Wikipedia page had he made the prediction and it came true, so should this go down on Jennings’ permanent record, and invite mild scorn and mockery among NBA fans whenever mentioned. And anytime Jennings should appear overmatched in a future playoff series or one-on-one battle, “Bucks in six” should always be mentioned at least once. Bloggers should make snarky references to it, #BucksinSix should trend on Twitter, opposing fans should chant it while he’s at the free throw line, and so on.

Because as much as I enjoy these predictions, accurate or not, I do still believe in a certain amount of accountability for athletes when making them — if only because otherwise, every underdog athlete in the history of sports would end up making such proclamations, and they’d lose all their remaining fun and/or credibility. Then Jennings would say something like this, it wouldn’t become any kind of story, and we’d be right back to watching Bucks-Heat with nothing to talk about except for how hilarious it is that Mike Dunleavy and JJ Redick actually ended up on the same pro team. Think I’d rather have it this way.