Imagine leaving your family and job and moving overseas to Milwaukee to fulfill a dream. That’s exactly what Kane Pitman did. Since arriving in Wisconsin, the Australian freelance writer has become one of the few beat reporters for the Milwaukee Bucks. Pitman writes for The Pick and Roll, and has been freelancing for other sites, like ESPN Australia and the Herald Sun, and co-hosts the podcast, Gyro Step.
Not a bad year to start covering them. The Bucks are in the playoffs. They’re the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The team captured a rare 60 wins this season. Not to mention, star Giannis Antetokounmpo could be this year’s MVP.
WPR’s Maureen McCollum recently talked with Pitman and asked him how he started following a small market team halfway around the world. Turns out he fell for them during the 2001 playoff season.
Maureen McCollum: How did you get into the Bucks as a kid in Australia?
Kane Pitman: The first NBA game I really watched was when Milwaukee was in the playoffs in 2001. I think it is in the second round. It was the first time I watched the NBA. At that point, there wasn’t a lot of NBA coverage in Australia at all. So, I enjoyed the game and the Bucks won. I really enjoyed watching Ray Allen play. I kept following the team.
And they’ve had a good connection with Australia. Obviously they drafted Andrew Bogut in 2005, right. Matthew Dellavedova through this last year, though obviously, the Bucks traded him. Thon Maker as well, so they’ve had a bit of a connection with Australia.
MM: There’s been a lot of nostalgia for that 2000s team recently, not only because of the playoffs. The Bucks “updated” the classic song “Light It Up! Light It Up!” with “Let It Fly.” I have to ask, are you team “Light It Up” or “Let It Fly?”
KP: I think it’s really hard. It’s really hard to like get past the nostalgia of “Light It Up,” right? And everyone that watches that song, they associate that with that 2000s team. Really, there hasn’t been another team that’s had a run like that since then. So that’s going to be hard for people to get past.
For me though, I think if this team goes on a run, the more you say “Let It Fly” through the playoffs — and maybe the Bucks make the finals — and if you’re watching the whole way through that run, then you’re going to love that song as well.
So right now, it’s like well I can’t get past the original. But, I think the longer this Bucks team plays and the more success they have and the more good memories people have with this song, and I think they’ll get behind “Let It Fly.”
MM: You moved from Australia to Milwaukee to report on the Bucks at the beginning of this season. Why did you make that journey?
KP: I guess it’s kind of crazy. I’ve always had this passion in covering sports, but I wasn’t doing that in Australia. I was doing other things. I didn’t go to college. I went straight to work out of high school. I started my job four days after I finished high school, so it was always something in the background that I would do in my spare time. I do a bit of writing, write for a blog, or whatever you want to say.
I got myself in the position with this website, The Pick and Roll, which is an Australian basketball website. I was writing for them covering the Australians in the NBA. I would fly to America a couple of times a season and cover some games and then go home.
We started to have a conversation with my editor that maybe I could come over to Milwaukee and give this shot. Do it for a whole season and see what comes of that.
In the end, I thought that the situation was good for me. First of all, I knew Milwaukee we’re going to be good this year. I’m not sure I knew there were going to be 60 wins good, but I knew they were going to be good. They had a couple of Australians on the team, so I could justify writing for this website and coming to Milwaukee because there was actually some interest back home. And the really the big thing is I wanted to do this full time. I wanted to make this my career, but you can’t really cover the NBA from Australia. You just don’t have the access. You’re not at the games. So to try and get to that position, I had to move here. So I decided to do it and within six weeks of making that decision, I was in Milwaukee.
MM: So the Bucks have 60 wins this season, which is incredible and rare. What is working for this team this year?
KP: Everything. I mean, the transformation from last year to this year and how quickly it happened is pretty incredible. Obviously, they changed [their head] coach and that was a big thing that everyone straightaway thought was going to be a big boost to the Bucks. They bring in some new players, as well, and the groups sort of grind together.
But I think the biggest surprise to me early in the season was how quickly this team came together. Sometimes when you get a new coach or when you get some new players you can get off to a bit of a slow start as you work through chemistry and that sort of thing. But that wasn’t the case with this group.
I think it’s pretty special the way that they have been unselfish. The way they enjoy when each other has success and the way they back each other up when things don’t go so well. It’s very clear to me — being in this Bucks locker room, compared to some of the teams over the years — that this group is different. The way they get along is not common. It’s very rare and they’ve got the talent as well.
There hasn’t been a lot go wrong for them. They had a few injuries later in the season, which is a little bit of a concern. But I think for the most part, it’s been a really smooth ride.
MM: The Bucks are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. There’s a chance that Giannis Antetokounmpo could get MVP. You and I both know how amazing and impressive this is, but for people who aren’t following basketball in Wisconsin, can you help them understand how rare and special this moment is?
KP: So they’ve won 60 wins. It’s the first time the Milwaukee Bucks have done this since 1980-1981. That’s 38 years. It’s only the fifth time in the history of the Bucks that they’ve won 60 games.
They’re led by Giannis, who’s only 24 years old. He came to the game late. He’s grown every single year that he’s been in the NBA. And I think the most incredible thing about Giannis is his character and the way that he holds himself. How hard he works. How much he loves his family, the people around him. And for him to win MVP would be only the second Milwaukee Bucks player to win an MVP. I don’t think anyone that has followed the NBA in the past three decades would even consider that Milwaukee could have an NBA MVP.
The way the NBA is at the moment is so balanced to the big markets. The players will head to L.A. They will want to play in the big cities where they believe that they can get more money and more marketing and more endorsement deals. But, Giannis and the Bucks have been able to tip that scale and prove that that’s not the case. That’s very special and it’s a credit to Giannis because if the Bucks had any other star, perhaps this isn’t the case. Having a guy like Giannis want to be a Milwaukee, stay in Milwaukee, now we’re starting to see other players want to be in Milwaukee because of this one star that says, “Hey, this is this is a good place to play. There are good people here. We have a brand new arena now. The front office looks after you. They’re good people.” I think that this was not something that you could have envisioned at all.
I mean when Giannis was a rookie, the Bucks won 15 games. So you think now they’ve won 60 in the space of six years. The transformation that the franchise has had is incredible. I mean they were nearly gone if they didn’t get that arena. And now, they’re potentially bringing a title to Milwaukee for the first time since 1971. It’s amazing.
(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Kane Pitman is from Geelong, Australia. He’s currently job hunting and would love to stay in Milwaukee.