Giannis Antetokounmpo refutes quotes in Harvard case study about free agency: 'It's words I didn't use'

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MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 17:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks walks backcourt during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Fiserv Forum on October 17, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo said he didn't make reported comments about free agency. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Giannis Antetokounmpo can become a free agent after next season, and he’s already facing questions about staying in Milwaukee or fleeing the Bucks.

The sixth-year veteran has stayed mum on the topic and said he will address it “when the time is right.” Earlier this week, though, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a statement Antetokounmpo made about the team’s culture impacting his decision during an interview for a Harvard Business School study.

It hinted toward his standing on free agency, but he claimed the quote was “words that I didn’t use.”

Antetokounmpo makes free agency statement

The Harvard study looks at the Bucks’ recent success and "quest to retain the hugely important services” of Antetokounmpo, per the Journal. It has yet to be published; the Journal received the study co-authored by professor Anita Elberse and student Melcolm Ruffin from the team for a review article.

Here’s what Antetokounmpo said, via the Journal Sentinel:

“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture. So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”

The reigning MVP is eligible for a five-year, $253.8 million contract extension next summer from the Bucks, which would become the largest NBA contract in history. He could also opt-out and become a free agent in 2021.

Antetokounmpo refutes Harvard study quotes

During a shootaround before the Bucks’ season opener at the Houston Rockets, the 24-year-old Antetokounmpo pushed back on the comments by saying he never made them.

Via The Athletic:

“As I’ve said there’s going to be a lot of stories that are going to come out,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think everybody knows how sensitive this timing is. They’re going to come out with a bunch of stories and all that. My girlfriend Mariah asked me yesterday. She said, ‘Did you actually say this?’ ” I said, ‘If you’re going to read the last quote, I’ve never used those words in my life.’”

When asked what specifically he thought was incorrectly attributed to him, the star declined to discuss.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Antetokounmpo said. “As I said, the last — what is it called — quote, paragraph, it’s words that I didn’t use. Underperforming or whether or deciding, all those words. I’ve never used in my life.

“As I said, I’m not going to talk about it. There can be stories coming out. I said this, I said that. I said this. But I’m not going to get into it at all.”

Elberse spoke to the Journal Sentinel for its original story, before the misquote claim, and said it’s “not uncommon” for Harvard professors to “get people to say things that they haven’t said anywhere else because these are in-depth interviews.”

"I was obviously happy to see him being open," she said.

Bucks co-owner says Harvard needed ‘conflict’

The researchers interviewed many around the franchise for their study, including Bucks co-owner Jamie Dinan. He told the Journal Sentinel in a follow-up story they needed conflict for the “study to be successful as a teaching case,” per the Journal.

“I wasn’t in the room when [Antetokounmpo] said it,” Dinan said, “so I don’t know if they goaded him a little bit to kind of get some conflict.”

Dinan added: “He clearly said it because she [Elberse] said he said it and she taped it.”

Antetokounmpo reiterated to media he won’t be talking about free agency and is instead focused on the season. He is only the latest sports figure to take a “run it back” approach to comments, whether they be team statements or game guarantees.

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