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Pat Connaughton on the Bucks’ break from the championship chase, his second career, and Giannis’ future

A Q&A with the Milwaukee Bucks guard as the NBA season has been paused indefinitely over the coronavirus pandemic.

Pat Connaughton of the Bucks.
A Q&A with Pat Connaughton of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Six weeks ago, Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton was coasting through the fifth year of his career as a rotation player on one of the best teams in NBA history. He’d just competed in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest, and had a story about his real estate development company published in the New York Times.

Today, as Covid-19’s rampant sweep across the United States has placed the rest of the 2019-20 season in jeopardy, there’s a chance Connaughton — a free agent this offseason — has already played his last game with the Bucks.

Most people have been forced to adjust to a different lifestyle. That includes this 27-year-old NBA player who would otherwise be preparing for a playoff run, while fulfilling his second career in different ways than he currently can.

In a wide-ranging phone interview with SB Nation on Monday, Connaughton opened up about free agency, why it’s important for professional athletes to prepare for life after retirement, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee, the Netflix series Tiger King, and so much more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SB NATION: I’ll begin with a question I find myself asking just about everyone I talk to these days: How are you staying safe? And, did you consider traveling home once the NBA allowed its players to do so, or just bunker down and stay put?

PAT CONNAUGHTON: I stayed in Milwaukee. I tried to look at it from a variety of different angles. For me, I’m from the Boston area and Massachusetts was arguably hit worse than the majority of other places, so going home didn’t really make sense for me, for my own health but also for the safety of my family.

We’re fortunate to be in the NBA. We might as well stay close to our team just in case, God forbid something does happen and we need access to doctors, we have team doctors. If we need access to food for some reason, the chefs are trying to help us out when they can. There’s different things that I think teams are doing to help their players that stick around.

I also wanted to do my best to stay in shape, and when the facility shut down I was able to work with some of our strength staff to get some free weights into my apartment, to get a bike, to at least have some workouts that I can do outside, running up hills near the lakefront where I live, things of that nature so that I can keep myself sane.

SB: What’s been the biggest difference for you, going from the 100 miles per hour schedule you were on as an in-season NBA player to just shutting everything down as quickly as you did?

PC: I really do believe it’s a simulation of retirement. Obviously guys still want to stay in shape and work out because basketball will be back at some point in time, but it is a mini simulation of it. Our working careers end by 35, 40, if you’re fortunate, so you’ve still got 35, 40 years of life, and what are you doing day in and day out?

For me, I love doing different things with real estate. I try to work with my best friend who’s our project manager who lives with me out here in Milwaukee, we’re working on ‘Hey, how can we grow the real estate company?’ It’s similar to what I do in basketball, learning from Giannis on a daily basis. How can I use the same competitive skill-set in the business world during this time off, because when the ball does stop bouncing I still want to have another successful career in another field.

SB: How about your daily schedule. I’m just curious how you’re filling spare time, being that I’m sure you have even more of it now with the season on hold.

PC: I wake up, I’ll scramble some eggs, cook some bacon, have a few pieces of toast, yogurt, smoothie, whatever it might be. I’ll then workout, whether it’s outside, inside, bike, weights, whatever I have access to, however creative I can be. By that time I’ll have lunch, and while I’m having lunch I’ll check my emails. I’ll check some of the work stuff I’m doing as far as the business outside of basketball for a few hours, do some stuff there.

By that time it’s probably dinnertime. We’ve been making dinner at home. Tacos. Homemade pizzas. Ramen noodles. We’re fortunate: My best friend’s fiancee also is with us and she’s a little bit more expertise in the kitchen than we are, but we’re learning.

At night, it’ll vary. Sometimes we’ll watch Billions. I’m a huge Billions fan. I’m catching up on it now because the new season is coming out in May. We checked out Tiger King. Some nights we’ll play video games. We’ll play NHL. I grew up with all hockey players. I was the only basketball player, so I didn’t have a choice on learning how to play hockey video games, now I actually enjoy it. Sometimes we’ll watch a movie. Sometimes I’ll read a book before bed. So I think it kind of varies depending the night, but before you know it, it’s 9, 10 o’clock, and if I want to try to continue to simulate what it’s going to be post retirement to get a feel for it, then I try my best to get to bed at a reasonable hour, get up in the morning and do it all again.

2020 NBA All-Star - Saturday Night Presented by State Farm Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

SB: I will never forgive myself if I don’t ask this super-serious followup question, but what were your thoughts on Tiger King?

PC: [Laughs] I was a huge fan of seeing the tigers, the lions, the ligers, the animals. Those things fascinate me. I used to watch The Lion Whisperer on Youtube. There’s this guy who is out with wild lions, in Africa or wherever they live, and he’ll just go up to them and they love him. So I’ve always been fascinated by the size of them, the size of their heads, the size of their paws. Actually the background on the lock screen on my phone is a lion. So I loved that.

As far as the personal life of my man Joe Exotic and some of the characters in it, I was a little bit puzzled. My facial reactions were a little bit, like, giggle-worthy, as my buddy and his fiancee said. They’d look at me when something was happening and I’d look at the screen like ‘what the heck is going on?’ Never in my life would I have sat down to watch that otherwise, so I think that’s all part of the experience. I’ll look back on this hopefully in five, 10 years and be like ‘Hey remember that pandemic we went through? Yeah, remember that show we watched with that guy who got put in jail, and there was that other lady who might’ve fed her husband to a tiger?’

SB: I could honestly ask you one million questions about Tiger King but I think it’s best for everyone if we move on to topics that actually matter. We don’t know when or if the season will come back, but how difficult do you think it’ll be to ramp your body back into game shape? There’s really nothing that can perfectly simulate what an NBA game is like. Does that concern you?

PC: Not for me, personally. I don’t think there’s any way to simulate game shape, but the ironic part about that is every offseason there’s also no way to simulate game shape, so in reality that’s not really a big difference, in my opinion. I’m more concerned about not having access to a gym. I can’t go into the facility. We’re not allowed to go into public gymnasiums. Unless you’re a guy who has a personal court in your house or live in nice weather and can shoot around in your driveway ... I’ve got a few balls in my house and I’m dribbling around but I’m sure the people below me and to the side of me aren’t thrilled about the dribbling that goes on at night, you know what I mean? I think that is something that will be on my radar as the season comes back around.

The in-shape thing, some of the workouts that I do, I’m laying on the ground dead afterwards. And as far as I’m concerned every time I’ve run up and down a court and played in a game I’ve never ended up laying on the ground in the locker room afterwards, like, purely exhausted. So I think the in-shape stuff, I can mitigate that worry, but I think the skill-related stuff, shooting, that’s something you’re gonna have to focus on a little bit more, pending when and if [the season] comes back.

SB: Is there anything the Bucks have communicated with you to try and combat that?

PC: When I think about what I can do, I think back to when I wasn’t in a gym every single day as a kid. We weren’t allowed to be. You had practice two, three, four times a week, depending on how many teams you were on. You weren’t necessarily in a basketball gym for hours upon hours every single day. Especially for me, playing baseball. I just think about the stuff that I used to do around the house. Dribble the ball around until my mom yelled at me. Lay in bed and shoot the ball up in the air, like you saw Pistol Pete do in that movie or whatever it was. Simple things like that to just keep your feel of the basketball at least somewhat normal.

SB: How did you find out the season was suspended and what was your first reaction?

PC: I was sitting in my apartment, actually just finished making tacos with my buddy and his fiancee. We were playing the Celtics the next day, and I was on League Pass waiting to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz game. And it never came on. So we were like ‘when was the last time an NBA game didn’t tip off at tip-off time?’

So we went straight to Twitter, and for the next two hours we were watching Twitter as if it was the night of the NBA Draft, back when [Adrian Wojnarowski] used to drop the tweets before the draft picks came out. We might as well have thrown the Twitter feed of my phone up on the TV screen and just watched it that way because it was just fascinating.

I was just kind of like ‘this is wild.’ I didn’t think much about it at the start, as far as, this could end the season or anything that drastic. I was just like ‘wow this is having a serious effect on this one game.’ And then the Pelicans never even started their game and the Mavs finished their game, and we were supposed to play the next night? Will they [cancel] another game? The Celtics had just played the Jazz, so we kind of thought that our game wasn’t gonna last, but we didn’t get the official word for no shootaround until later on that night. And then we didn’t get the word about no games until the next day.

It was just kind of fascinating how quickly it unfolded, and how the NBA was ahead of everything. The NBA honestly set the precedent, in my opinion, for not just the rest of the sports world, but almost the rest of the world itself, to start taking this thing seriously.

SB: It’s hard to think about where we would be in this country had Rudy Gobert never tested positive, and we’re still so far behind.

PC: We’re far behind as far as the world is concerned. As a sports league, we were ahead of where the U.S. was, which is wild and scary to think about.

SB: Being part of such a special season with the Bucks, how often do you think about the possibility that the season is over, and how you might never get an opportunity to finish what you started? How difficult would that be, given all the hard work that was put in and what the expectations were?

PC: It’s tough because you look at it from a few different lenses. You think seasons like this don’t come along every year, so if it ends that’s gonna suck. To be honest. But when you look at it from the lens of an athlete you’re like we, as a team, are very good. What is preventing us from doing it again next year? Obviously we would be disappointed, we’re having a great year, etc. But maybe it just makes us hungrier next year. Maybe it’s fuel on the fire, as opposed to something else. Giannis will be a year older, a year more skilled. We’ll all be getting better. If you look at it that way you can throw some positive light to it.

The other light you look at it, just being open and honest, there are guys that are on contract years. There are guys that, I mean, personally I don’t have a technical contract for next year or anything. So you look at it like how does it affect free agency? How does it affect the salary cap? What does our team look like next year if the season were to end and not continue, and the playoffs weren’t to happen and there weren’t a champion to be crowned. I think all of those are unknown.

I could sit here for 24 straight hours and put down a sheet of paper, pros, cons, all these different scenarios, but I don’t think that does me any good. We don’t know. Nobody knows. The NBA is full of much smarter people than myself. Adam Silver is great. The owners are all very smart guys. The general managers are very smart guys. Obviously the player’s union, Michelle. Chris Paul. All them are very smart. I believe the best interest of as many players as possible and all the teams and the league itself will be what’s most important and what will be accomplished. So for me to worry about those sorts of things, sure, but at the same time it’s not gonna help me. I’m not gonna figure out, sitting in this apartment in the next month and a half, what the answers are.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

SB: I wanted to ask you about being a free agent this offseason, and, as you said, we don’t know what will happen to the cap but there’s a chance it drops, given the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that will be lost — which could limit the amount of money teams are able or willing to pay. Respective of your own situation, I’m sure you’ve thought about that, and then also the idea that you might’ve played your last game with the Bucks. How difficult is it to cope with such an uncertain future?

PC: I definitely think about it but in the most simplistic terms. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always made sure I do other things outside of basketball. I’m not saying it’s because my basketball career is about to end, I’m just saying my dream was always to play in the NBA. Would I like to make a lot of money playing in the NBA? Absolutely. But if the cap gets affected there’s nothing I can do about it.

I want to continue to play in the NBA. I want to continue to be part of the Milwaukee Bucks as a championship contender, and I want to continue to help my team eventually win a championship, two, three, four, whatever it is. What my contract looks like while I’m doing that? If it was more money and more guaranteed years, absolutely, I’d love that. But as long as I’m here, as long as I’m playing, as long as I’m doing my job to continue to be an NBA player, a dream that I wanted to accomplish since I was a kid, it’s quite possible I make more money outside of basketball than I do in basketball when it’s all said and done.

The way that I’m trying to set up the real estate venture, the way that I’m trying to set up business outside of basketball, with, hopefully the relationships that I’ve built and will continue to build while I’m involved in the NBA, hopefully there’s a career after basketball. Maybe it’ll definitely be real estate, but maybe there’s something else. Maybe there’s a consulting role. Maybe there’s a front office role. Maybe there’s a league role. Maybe there’s something else for me because I don’t put all my chips in one basket. I can only control what I can control but I think the way that I’m setting up my life will at least allow me to have some flexibility as far as making money in the future, and continuing to play in the NBA for, hopefully, 10, 15 years.

SB: How has this pandemic impacted Beach House LLC, your real estate development company?

PC: We have a few job sites here in Milwaukee, we’ve got one that’s still moving forward. We got permission from the city because it’s right next to another building so for safety reasons they want us to make sure we get the foundation in and get some things there so it’s not just sitting as an open hole throughout this time. So I try to go by it once a day.

The name [Beach House LLC] might be changing soon, but one of our goals with real estate development is to mitigate risk. We’re trying to find distressed properties, we’re trying to find land, we’re trying to find things that we can create value in. My dad is a general contractor, I’ve been around it. So it’s not your typical real estate investments where you’re just investing in a property and banking on everybody that’s paying rent to at least cover the mortgage and give you a little bit of a return. We’re doing that but we’re doing it after we’re developing, fixing up or renovating a property. So in reality we’re kind of on both sides. We’re creating value in the property so the appreciation grows quicker, faster, more. And then we’re holding onto the asset and trying to cash flow it so it’s also making some money year after year. But in the long term, in the 10-year window, in the 15-year window, that’s when it really starts to make money.

I think as a professional athlete, the reason others have gotten involved is because we’re fortunate to have another source of income. How do you use that income to set up another source of income when that other source of income falls off? Aka, when your career is over, is there a way to utilize the money you’ve made in this career to set up another, arguably equal or close to equal, source of income afterwards. I think that’s kind of our goal with this.

In the short term, does [coronavirus] have an effect? Yeah, potentially. Does it also have an effect where you’re able to buy some property because prices drop? Potentially. I don’t really know how it’s going to fully affect it but in general it continues to go up over long periods of time. I think that’s what gives us an advantage in that world.

SB: Why change the name?

PC: I want it to reflect the story behind it. Beach House was an LLC that my father had for a house that he did back in Florida, way back when. I’d like to put it in something that shows athletes in business, something that’s unique about this actual story, because at the end of the day, if I’m able to do what I want to do in the business world I think it will be a unique story.

My main goal is, after seeing the 30 for 30, Broke, to shed some light, get some professional athletes involved [or] give them advice even if they don’t want to be involved and kind of help change the stigma that professional athletes go broke after their careers because they don’t know how to manage their money during, and shortly after.

SB: Have other players reached out for advice or even made requests to get involved over the past few weeks?

PC: I’d say a few have. I wouldn’t say as many as you’d think with all the time on our hands, but that’s also partly because I haven’t reached out to anyone either. What I’d like to do during this time is really think about what is that next growth for the real estate development company. We have five to 10 [professional athletes] involved in a number of different projects that we’ve done, so those are great one-off projects.

What is the next growth for my company? Is it raising a fund, or getting a bunch of guys together at a certain dollar amount? Is it trying to incorporate the pro athletes that I have with some of the businessmen that I’ve known and put them together for a fund or partnership where there’s a surplus of money, and now I’m going out, developing, buying, doing different things so that when one of the players in the NBA comes to town to play the Milwaukee Bucks next year, they’re able to go by the job site that we’re doing, and they’re able to see how it’s being built. They can see it in person and say ‘Hey, I own that.”

What is that next growth step for the company? That’s kind of what I’ve been utilizing my time and energy on during this hiatus, and hopefully in the next week or two I’ll have that answer and I’ll start to put something together for it. I’ll start to reach out to some players, or field some calls from some players and try to start to make it a bigger operation. Make it a bigger business.

SB: Are you mainly focused on properties in Milwaukee or looking to expand in the future?

PC: Location is the most important thing in real estate, so I want to expand to different areas. It’s just going to depend on the location in those different areas. I have two buildings, one that’s being built and one that’s gonna start being built in a few months around Notre Dame. I obviously know that area really well. We were able to get locations that are right near campus. You can probably hit a driver off your porch to campus.

There could be some similar growth in the future for the company. Some of the projects [Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum] is involved in, there’s no reason we couldn’t do a similar model around Lehigh. He’s obviously the biggest name to come from Lehigh in the professional sports world, so there’s no reason we can’t do some of those things. Those are the business ideas I love thinking about. But in the short term it’s about areas that we know and areas we have influence in and can get to relatively easily. We’re not locked to one city, is the short version of that answer.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

SB: Circling it back to your playing career now, you competed in your first NBA Slam Dunk contest at All-Star Weekend last month. What was going through your head when the judges gave you a 45 after your first dunk?

PC: Honestly, I was ... that’s a great question. I don’t think I was as appalled at the time as a lot of people that I know. Did I think it could’ve been a little higher? Absolutely. But I wasn’t necessarily outraged, like, I like to think I’m pretty realistic. I like to think I’m relatively humble. That was my first dunk in an NBA dunk contest ever in my life. I was happy that I got it down on the first try, pulled off the White Man Can’t Jump thing pretty well, and then been able to share that moment with [Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich] and Giannis and Khris [Middleton] and Thanasis [Antetokounmpo] and my teammates. I thought it was pretty cool, so I was less concerned about one of the eights that could’ve been a nine. And by one of them I mean the only eight that could’ve been a nine. But that’s neither here nor there.

SB: Speaking of Giannis, you’ve been his teammate for a while and have a good relationship with him. With his upcoming free agency being one of the larger stories in the sport, do you ever talk about whether he’ll stay or go, or does it not really come up?

PC: It’s something I would talk about with him. We’re close enough friends where we definitely could. And I think our team is so close and so great as far as talking about things other than basketball, and business, and world issues, social issues. Kyle Korver brings a great element to those sorts of things. I think we have a very close knit team in our locker room.

I think sometimes it gets brought up randomly in passing and things like that, but I think at the end of the day, for us, it’s not as big of a deal as it is for the rest of the world. Obviously the city of Milwaukee, the team, everyone wants Giannis to be here forever. But Giannis has put himself in a position to provide for his family from growing up with nothing in Greece, and I don’t think you can fault Giannis for whatever decision he ends up making, that he believes is the best decision for him, his family, the people who are closest to him.

I’ll support him regardless of what he does, and I think the entire team will support him regardless of what he does. I think we’re building something pretty cool in Milwaukee so that will play a role, but it’s his decision and all of us will support what he does, whenever that decision comes to light.