For someone who grew up in Arkansas dreaming of playing on such a grand stage, Bobby Portis sure made himself comfortable at the NBA Finals Sunday night.
Not only did Portis inject his typical energy into a must-needed Milwaukee Bucks Game 3 victory, the former Chicago Bulls first-round pick basically turned his postgame podium session into a Comedy Central audition.
He cracked jokes. He dropped nicknames. He even broke out the ol’ third-person reference he used so often during his days in Chicago.
“I want to win,” Portis said. “I came to Milwaukee to try to impact winning and try to be the best Bobby Portis I can be.”
That Portis showed up in the form of 11 points, eight rebounds, a fourth-quarter technical foul for jawing with Jae Crowder and multiple primal screams. Throughout the game, the Fiserv Forum faithful, not to mention a crowd estimated at 25,000 outside the arena, chanted “Bobby! Bobby!” to further fuel the delirium.
“It’s crazy, man,” Portis said. “They’ve been doing it throughout the entire playoffs and stuff. So it kind of fires me up a lot. It fires my teammates up too.
“It’s just a great time to be a Buck right now,” he said. “It’s a great time for the city of Milwaukee.”
Portis rarely has needed help finding, or supplying, energy. Where he has strayed occasionally is defensive focus. And the way he toggled between poking fun at himself and serious introspection on that topic underscores the maturity Portis has found as his career has progressed.
“Not saying I’m great defensively, but I try my best. I do everything I can to stay on the floor,” Portis said. “I’m not saying I’m a defensive stopper. But Coach Bud (Mike Budenholzer) has done a great job with me all season in the film room. I feel like I’m the first person on the film all the time. He just stays on me. I think we all need coaches like that to push us.
“When you want to win, you have to sacrifice and do things out of the ordinary. I played on a lot of teams that would never be in this position, a lot of losing teams, tanking teams that want a higher draft pick. So the coaches kind of let things slip and slide away when you’re on losing teams. They don’t really mention that. Here, every possession matters. And Coach Bud stays on us about it.
“They really locked in on me the first couple months of the season. Just on me and on me every day about defense. Some days I was like, ‘Damn, I can’t do nothing right.’ But staying with it, being myself and just trusting these guys has helped me get to this point.”
Portis played 18 minutes in Game 3 after logging only 5 in the Bucks’ Game 2 loss in Phoenix. Portis’ role acceptance has defined his first season in Milwaukee.
Perhaps its peak came when Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the final two games of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference finals victory over the Hawks with a knee injury. Portis started those games and averaged 17 points and 8.5 rebounds.
“This is the NBA. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. That’s one thing my vets taught me as a rookie,” Portis said. “You play two minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, have a good game, bad game, it’s next day mentality. When 12 o’ clock hits on game day, it’s over with. It’s time to focus on Game 4. I don’t sit and sob or get mad or anything if I’m not playing.”
Asked which players specifically helped him form this mentality during his rookie season with the Bulls back in 2015-16, Portis cited Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich.
“They all stayed on me a lot, just told me to always stay ready,” Portis said. “Keep working on your game. Staying in shape.
“That’s probably the toughest thing as a young player coming into the league. You don’t really understand the marathon you’re going to run in this league. Everybody’s journey is going to be different. You have to run your own race. And I just had to figure that out at an early age. Once I figured that out, I was content and at peace with myself.”
This wasn’t the only time Portis turned philosophical during his podium appearance. He talked about how when one makes sacrifices, life becomes richer. And when asked what stories he might tell about Antetokounmpo 30 years from now, the 26-year-old flashed the humor of youth.
“I ain’t even try to think about 56,” Portis said, laughing. “I ain’t gonna lie.”
Again, Portis owned the podium moment. It’s almost as if he dreamed up this scenario one day.