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All hell broke loose when center Larry Sanders broke his thumb, getting into a fistfight in a nightclub, throwing a champagne bottle, adding to the perception of the Bucks as completely dysfunctional. It was humiliating for Sanders, who had just signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension.
Injuries mounted. D.J. Stephens, a reserve guard, remembered someone saying on the bench: “There’s $60 million just sitting there at the end of the bench. Can’t even play because they’re hurt.” He had to laugh — things were so bad.
It didn’t help that it was the year of the Arctic polar vortex, the coldest on record in two decades in Milwaukee. The temperature dropped below zero 24 times, and the windchill was characterized as “life-threatening,” with values as low as 60 degrees below zero. Experts warned of potential frostbite to anyone who stepped outside with uncovered skin.
The cold was a big adjustment for Antetokounmpo. He didn’t own warm clothes at first. He had only the Bucks sweatsuits, which he wore every day. Forward Ersan Ilyasova gave him a pair of jeans, as did guard O.J. Mayo and forward Caron Butler. But he would wear just a light down jacket or sweatshirt and sweats on those frigid Milwaukee days. Sometimes Antetokounmpo would hold on to the arm of Ross Geiger, an assistant video coordinator, when walking because he was shivering, wearing Nike slides with socks rather than snow boots.
One night, as they were leaving the Cheesecake Factory near 11 p.m., a heavy snow was falling, the beginning of a blizzard. Inches and inches of snow had already piled up outside as Antetokounmpo and Geiger headed to the car. The windshield wipers furiously whipped back and forth, but the snow pelted down so hard Geiger couldn’t see. At all.
Geiger pulled over. “Don’t pull over,” Antetokounmpo said. “We keep going.” Antetokounmpo, still buckled into his seat, took his right arm, towel in hand, and lunged forward and stretched his massive wingspan all the way over to Geiger’s side, serving as a human windshield wiper, cleaning each side every 30 seconds. Geiger could see enough to make it home.