FAYETTEVILLE – In Arkansas, first as a McDonald’s High School All-American at Little Rock Hall then as a 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 Razorback, Bobby Portis shined as a white collar star statewide appreciated for blue-collar attributes while a 2013-2014 All-SEC Freshman and 2014-2015 SEC Player of the Year.
It’s taken six NBA years, four teams and especially the last two games, but Portis suddenly impacts professionally like he impacted as an Arkansas amateur.
In large part to 6-11 Portis’ contributions starting NBA playoff games for the first time these last two games, the Milwaukee Bucks in Games 5 and 6 eliminated the Atlanta Hawks in their best of 7 Eastern Conference final series and Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns begin the best of 7 series for the NBA championship.
Occasionally flashing greatness but mainly a role player through five up and down years with the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and New York Knicks, Portis found a 2020-2021 free agent home in Milwaukee bounding off the Bucks bench.
The last two games he’s been asked to replace THE star, injured Milwaukee center-forward Giannis Antetokounmpo averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
Portis hasn’t quite matched those numbers, but to Milwaukee fans he’s come close enough. Blending with on a roll Bucks starters Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, Portis tangibly added 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in the 123-112 Game 5 victory in Milwaukee and 12 points and nine rebounds in the Bucks’ 118-1007 clincher last Saturday night in Atlanta.
Intangibly, the sixth man they call “Crazy Eyes” for his bulging orbs, ignited the Game 6 crowd last Thursday in Milwaukee as a fast-opening starter like he has coming off the bench.
“I think his passion is infectious,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was quoted. “His teammates love him. The fans love him. He brings that passion for the game, for life. He’s fun to be around. I think the crowd can feel that. His teammates can feel that. Coaches can feel it. He’s a worker, too. So I think it’s a little bit of everything, but passion to me is the thing he brings to the game.”
Portis talked of learning his role through the NBA’s School of Hard Knocks.
“When you first come to the NBA, you don’t really understand the journey,” Portis said. “I was the best player on my team, Player of the Year, All-American. When I first got to the league, I wasn’t playing a lot. Didn’t really understand and kind of lost myself a little bit, but I fought my way in. The journey is what makes it sweet, man, in the NBA. You really can’t put a tab on that.”
Milwaukee now joins Arkansas appreciating how Bobby Portis can pick up the tab.
PREPARING FOR PANDORA’S BOX
Whatever the plusses and minuses occur from opening the Pandora’s box of Names, Image and Likeness for college athletes it seems the University of Arkansas has prepared itself and begun preparing its athletes as well it can through unchartered waters.
Bowing to the legal pressures that it can no longer profit off collegiate athletes without the athletes having opportunity to earn beyond their scholarships, the NCAA effective last Thursday allowed its athletes to make financial deals off their names, images and likeness to endorse products without jeopardizing their collegiate athletic eligibility.
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek last May put recently hired senior associate athletic director Terry Prentice, a former decathlete on Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men’s track team, in charge of the “Flagship” program that will incorporate the resources of the UA’s Walton School of Business to educate athletes about the opportunities that may await them and the rules they must follow.
““Just as we prepare and train our student-athletes to compete and succeed in the classroom and on the fields of athletics competition, we are committed to positioning them for personal success with the new opportunities associated with Name, Image and Likeness,” Yurachek said last May announcing the Flagship programs.
Like most ambitiously new projects set to right old wrongs, nationally expect some bumps on this new NIL (Names, Image and Likeness) road before it gets clearly paved.
As the only athletic Power Five universities in their states, schools like the University of Arkansas, University of Missouri and University of Nebraska, appear to have one less NIL hurdle than some others.
Like for instance the State of Alabama. Auburn University quarterback Bo Nix last Thursday announcing an endorsement deal with Milo’s Sweet Tea caused some University of Alabama Crimson Tide fans holding their own style of the Boston Tea Party publicly pouring Milo’s down the sink.
By Friday Milo’s arranged an endorsement deal with Crimson Tide defensive back Malachi Moore.