Why are we booing Thon Maker?
Everything went according to the script for Bucks fans on Sunday night as as home squad pummeled the Detroit Pistons from tip-off to the final tally, 121-86. There was one part of the shellacking, however, that came as a surprise, and not in a good way: the deluge of boos awaiting former Buck and current Pistons big man Thon Maker, raining down almost as thick as the slushy snow outside the new arena.
Sure, even with history with the Bucks, you don't expect the home crowd at a much-anticipated playoff opener to cheer on a rival player. And Maker would eventually earn his share of derision after a hard foul on Giannis Antetokounmpo – though considering the two's tight friendship during their time as teammates in Milwaukee, it wasn't a malicious move, and it wouldn't even be the cheapest shot the Bucks star would take Sunday night.
But the jeers for Maker started well before that play, with the Brew City crowd that went apoplectic for his electric energy against the Boston Celtics a year ago now greeting him with resounding boos beginning from the first time his name was announced and not letting up anytime it was called after.
In a game that otherwise answered every question Bucks fans might've had about their home squad, one stuck in my craw well after the final buzzer: Why are we so angry at Thon Maker?
Drafted by the Bucks with the tenth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Maker was the kind of high-risk/high-reward, swing for the fences pick that landed the team Giannis Antetokounmpo three years before, a lot of potential packed inside a tall, thin frame. At no point over the next two and a half years would Maker live up to those Giannis 2.0 hopes, but not every raw project player becomes the finest version of himself the way the Greek Freak quickly did.
And though Maker never played at a consistent level, when the playoffs hit, the center was an essential spark plug – especially during last year's seven-game Celtics series where his stingy defense, big blocks and occasional triumph behind the three-point arc fully earned him the nickname "Playoff Thon."
Maybe he never played up to his full potential, but Thon Maker was far from the problem on an underperforming 2017-18 team. And when he did show signs of that floor-stretching skill set, he was a thrill to watch. So on-the-court disappointment shouldn't be the cause of turning "Playoff Thon" into seemingly public enemy number one.
The only explanation then lies off the court, where midway through the 2018-19 regular season, in the midst of dwindling minutes, Maker asked for a trade – and got it, sent off to Detroit for fellow lottery pick Stanley Johnson.
Even so, this wasn't some aggressive Anthony Davis-esque power move that left a team (or teams, his case) decimated in its wake, or a disgruntled player bringing his frustrations and tensions onto the court like Jabari Parker did in his final days in town. In fact, if you blinked, you might've missed Maker's trade request.
Plus, any good, knowledgable and empathetic fan should recognize that, as his minutes shrunk, Maker had to make a business decision to push toward a place that could offer more playing time – a business decision that made a lot of sense for the Bucks as well. After all, it became apparent pretty quickly that the 2018-19 Bucks were no longer in a developmental phase, with minutes available for molding a still-raw player; this was a team winning now and playing for a championship.
So yes, Thon Maker got his wish and got out of Milwaukee. But it was no loudly harrumphing Gary Sheffield-esque jilting – and at the time, the trade was seen as a very healthy mutually-beneficial deal for all involved, offering scenery changes for two potential-possessing former lottery picks stuck in neutral in their current settings. If anything, Milwaukee got its wish and more from the deal, as they flipped Johnson into Pelicans big man and deep threat Nikola Mirotic – an obvious upgrade from both Johnson or Maker, as well as a perfect cog in coach Mike Budenholzer's Giannis-and-shooters system, even if injuries have kept him on the bench for most of his Bucks tenure.
No harm, no foul, right? Apparently not for many fans inside Fiserv Forum Sunday night, who were seemingly very angry about Thon Maker's two years of promising, if inconsistent and unpolished, play and delightful postseason spark, followed by politely asking for a trade for the sake of his career that ended up doing all parties good, maybe Milwaukee most of all. Indeed, what a monster. Boo that man, sure.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time in recent history the Bucks crowd has irrationally treated former teammates as turncoats. During last season's playoff run, I remember Greg Monroe receiving an at-best mixed ovation from the Milwaukee crowd. Most notably, in 2016, the Bucks even apologized to Zaza Pachulia after the fan section, Squad 6, loudly derided him throughout his return to Brew City.
Never mind that neither of these players left Milwaukee, but were traded. Never mind that they both had fairly successful tenures as Bucks, playing key roles in improving the team's place in the standings and improving its overall standing in the NBA. Trust me, there are plenty of reasons for booing Zaza Pachulia – but getting shipped away from a city and team you liked in a trade you had no control over isn't one of them.
People may call this "creating a quality home-court advantage" or "being loyal." I call this brand of unjust booing idiotic and outing yourselves as bad fans who can't understand nuances beyond "his jersey doesn't say my team's name anymore." Across the sports spectrum, from the Brewers' recent raucous postseason ventures to the escalating buzz around the Bucks, Milwaukee has a growing reputation as a passionate and spirited fanbase much, much louder than the nation's 36th largest media market. I'd hate to see that reputation sour by hating on players undeserving of hate, by blindly treating former Bucks as back-stabbers.
There were lots of things to boo at Sunday's game – and I'm sure there will be plenty more to come this series as the injured and overmatched Pistons get more desperate to keep their season alive. But Thon Maker's mere presence in a visiting team's uniform doesn't deserve to be one of them.
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