Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) loses the ball out of bounds during overtime of Game 5 of the team's first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, in Milwaukee. The Heat won 128-126, eliminating the Bucks from the playoffs. Credit: Jeffrey Phelps / AP

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Sometimes difficult, even frustrating questions are the ones that lead to some of the most interesting answers. Basketball superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example, didn’t love a question about his team failing to advance in the NBA playoffs. But his answer was a slam dunk lesson about working through setbacks, both in sport and in life.

A reporter asked the Milwaukee Bucks forward, who led his team to a championship two years ago, if he considered this season a failure because of the Bucks’ early playoff exit. The number one seed in the Eastern Conference was eliminated this week by the Miami Heat.

A clearly frustrated Antetokounmpo provided a measured and meaningful response to the question, which he said the same reporter asked last season (and which the reporter stressed he also asked the Bucks’ coach).

“Every year you work, you work towards something — towards a goal, which is to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, to be able to provide a house for them or take care of your parents. You work toward a goal — it’s not a failure, it’s steps to success,” Antetokounmpo said, talking about the reporter and his career in journalism. “There’s always steps to it. You know, Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships, the other nine years was a failure?”

The reporter then answered no to Antetokounmpo’s question about that being a failure.

“So why (did) you ask me that question? It’s a wrong question. There is no failure in sports,” Antetokounmpo continued. “You know, there’s good days, bad days. Some days you are able to be successful, some days you are not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that’s what sports are about. You don’t always win. Some other people [are] gonna win. This year, somebody else is gonna win. Simple as that. We’re gonna come back next year, try to be better, try to build good habits, try to play better, not have a 10-day stretch with bad basketball, and hopefully we can win a championship.”

The exchange, particularly Antetokounmpo’s answer, led to all sorts of praise — and disagreement — online. We’re here with praise. Others, like the legendary Shaquille O’Neal, had a different take.

“When you’re a great player, and they expect you to win, and you don’t win, in my mind it is a failure,” O’Neal said. “I played 19 seasons, and I failed 15 seasons. When I didn’t win, it was a failure.”

And Michael Jordan, years ago, already gave us insight into his thoughts on the matter.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots,” Jordan said in an old Nike commercial. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over, and over, and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

If we have a hot take to add to this discussion, it’s this: Except for differing views on whether to use the word “failure,” people are generally saying the same thing — setbacks happen and they are an opportunity to get better.

At the risk of giving everyone a participation trophy, each of these perspectives are valuable. Antetokounmpo is right that not everyone can win, and falling short of a goal can be an important step to success. O’Neal has done his fair share of winning, so we’re not going to quibble with him setting high (perhaps unfairly so) standards for himself. Jordan was right, and very successful because of it, to turn each individual failure and setback into longerm progress.

And for the record, Eric Nehm, the reporter who asked the question, was right to jumpstart this discussion in the first place. Journalists don’t always agree with the premises of their own questions; sometimes we ask the difficult or oppositional question in search of a meaningful answer. That’s what everyone got from Antetokounmpo’s answer, and the debate that has followed.

So if there are no failures in sports, then maybe there are no wrong questions in journalism.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...