Adult Men Nearly Fought to the Death Over a Basketball Last Night

Giannis Antetokounmpo made history as the first Bucks player to drop 60+ points—and the first to lay siege to another team’s locker to fight over a ball.

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Adult Men Nearly Fought to the Death Over a Basketball Last Night
Left photo: Giannis Antetokounmpo, left, demanding Wednesday night’s game ball (Tyrese Haliburton is on the right). Right photo: Antetokounmpo playing with said beloved game ball. Photo:Getty Images

When it comes to my obsessive and unhealthy love for the NBA, my enjoyment of the sport of basketball is admittedly secondary to my enjoyment of chaos and tomfoolery. And Wednesday night delivered all of this in abundance: The Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers game—which should have been nothing but an inane regular season stop—wound up being big for both teams. For starters, Giannis Antetokounmpo broke the Bucks’ franchise record by dropping 64 points (though, I might add, those 64 points came with the help of 32 free throw attempts). And the Pacers’ Oscar Tshiebwe scored the first point of his career. Both teams obviously wanted to commemorate these equally historic moments—resulting in an explosive scuffle that has me simultaneously very entertained and genuinely concerned with the State of Men, who are apparently prepared at any moment to go to war over a basketball.

At the end of the game, Pacers players appeared to take the game ball with them back to their locker room, ostensibly to celebrate their teammate’s landmark achievement. (Tshiebwe’s first point!!! Way to go, buddy!!) The only problem is that Antetokounmpo wanted the game ball, too, so he could commemorate his big game. This prompted a one-sided shouting match between him and the Pacers’ Tyrese Haliburton. There are a lot of videos circulating and I can’t decipher everything being said or who says what, but Antetokounmpo at some point yells to Haliburton, “Go get the fucking ball! You need to go get it!” before sprinting toward the Pacers’ locker room to try and get it himself. There, security tells him to leave, and he and Pacers players including Myles Turner go back and forth. “You want the ball? You’re not getting that ball,” someone, seemingly on the Pacers, says to Antetokounmpo. Another Pacers player says, “Don’t give him the ball!” And a Bucks player who accompanied Antetokounmpo says, “Give him the fucking ball!”

I am extremely uncomfortable watching this!!! I am also extremely entertained!!!

As the Washington Post explains (which is very helpful because the stakes are apparently life or death), coaches and players tend to collect the game ball after a game as “a memento of a milestone” for a new record, a debut, or anything else of real or imagined significance that might evoke sentimentality. Each NBA game has a “main ball” and an alternate. Antetokounmpo and the Pacers were both set on the main one. (Mind you, many of these players are very rich and could probably buy their own little private island or something, but I guess this ball is all they want and need in life.)

Katie Heindl, who hosts the Basketball Feelings podcast which explores the deep feelings that this supposedly hyper-masculine sport can evoke in us all, told Jezebel she’s “seen people say [Antetokounmpo], as a grown man, shouldn’t care so much about a basketball.” But she sees it both ways: “I see what happened as a distillation of the prism of basketball, that it can be so many different things to so many different people, that grown men can fight over a ball like it’s a prized jewel.” Case in point: Antetokounmpo’s reaction to receiving a ball, but being uncertain whether it was the game ball, is something, it appears, he’s able to sense and discern on a primal level. He told reporters:

“I have a ball, but I don’t know if it’s the game ball. It doesn’t feel like the game ball to me. It feels like a brand new ball. I can tell—I played, what, 35 minutes today. I know how the game ball felt. The ball that I have, which I’ll take and give to my mom, for sure, I don’t know if it’s actually the game ball.”

His appraisal of the situation can best be summed up with this tweet:

“What stands out to me is that he talks about the ball as if it holds some kind of power that he can feel or sense, and he doesn’t like this ball because it’s not,” Heindl said. But is there really a difference?? The fact that he believes there is, she argues, speaks to the emotional stakes of the sport simmering just beneath the surface of each game.

Be it the real game ball or a fraud, fret not: Antetokounmpo assures us he will be fine. Yes, he may have whipped up a storm, laid siege to the Pacers’ locker room, and berated Tyrese Haliburton, all in order to *checks notes* try to take home a basketball. But, as he put it:

“It’s okay. Life will continue. … I’ve never seen this [situation] before. I knew [the Pacers] had the game ball. I don’t know how it works, but I assume I can’t just walk into any arena and just take the ball.”

Meanwhile, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle explained why he didn’t see any problem with the Pacers taking the ball: “It was Oscar Tshiebwe’s first official NBA point, so we always get the game ball. We were not thinking about Giannis’s franchise record, so we grabbed the ball,” he said. “A couple of minutes later, several of their players ended up in our hallway and there was a big—I don’t know what to call it—a fracas or melee or whatever.” (My vote is for “fracas,” because it’s the more fun of the two.) He continued, “I don’t think any punches were landed, but my general manager [Chad Buchanan] got elbowed in the ribs by one of their players. He certainly has a bruised rib, and who knows if it’s anything more than that. Unfortunate situation.”

Many questions remain, namely who has which ball, who should have custody of which ball, et cetera. But frankly, these are my only questions: Are men OK? Are they too emotional for team sports?? Why can’t we all just get along, kiss and make up? Finally, where does this rank in the hall of fame of NBA absurdity—perhaps somewhere between Devin Booker fighting the Toronto Raptors’ mascot last year, or Kevin Durant joining a Twitter Space to argue with strangers about whether he’s a top-five basketball player? “As far as absurdity goes,” Heindl said, “this is going to be an event of the season.”

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