As reported on mmagazinemilwaukee.com, written by Jen Kent
It’s the morning of our interview and photo shoot, and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon asks if he can push back the scheduled start time a few hours. His mother is in town, visiting from his hometown of Atlanta, and he’d like to spend more time with her before her flight departs later that day. I readily oblige, making a mental note to include the exchange in this story. It personifies who Brogdon is — the consummate gentleman, both on and off the court, and someone who puts his family first.
Born to two highly educated parents (his mother is a provost, and his father is a lawyer), Brogdon is the youngest of three children. He graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA) with a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in leadership and public policy before joining the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Milwaukee Bucks organization two years ago. His two older brothers, Brogdon adds, have law degrees. “The thing that really drove us was such high expectations in our family,” he explains. “Almost everybody on my mom’s side has a graduate degree; my grandparents both have graduate degrees. … It didn’t matter if I was a professional basketball player, or whatever I was doing. I was expected to go ahead and get a graduate degree as well.”
Brogdon says he chose to attend UVA because of the balance the school provided. “My goal was to always play in the NBA, but I knew I needed a great education,” he continues. “(UVA) has a great reputation for excellence in the classroom and on the court. … I thought (going there) would give me a great balance. It would give me the exposure of playing in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) and possibly playing in the NBA, if I was good enough. But also, if that failed, I’d always have my education to fall back on.”
Given Brogdon’s scholastic background and interest in public policy (his teammates have even nicknamed him “The President”), it’s no surprise that he is an active participant in the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation, the team’s first-ever charitable nonprofit. Established in 2016, the foundation is dedicated to improving outcomes for underserved populations statewide through youth education, health and wellness and community betterment. “I think it’s important for guys like me — whether you’re an NBA player or someone that’s in the light or someone that’s ‘on stage,’ so to speak, with their work — to be able to relay positive messages,” Brogdon says. “ … It’s important to step out and really try to help others with the attention you receive, (and) to really try to give others that same attention.”
One of his favorite local nonprofits to work with, Brogdon says, is Running Rebels Community Organization (RRCO), an agency committed to helping Milwaukee’s central-city youth reach their highest potential. He most recently participated in an RRCO event aimed at bridging the gap between the police and young African Americans. “We were matched up with a kid, and we expressed what we did (professionally),” he explains. “We started very basic, and then we went on to talk about some of the issues surrounding their lives, some of the issues we faced growing up, and how they can better manage their environments or their situations.”
Contrary to popular belief, very few of these workshops involve the game of basketball. “It’s about teaching (these kids) about how to manage life,” Brogdon stresses. “These are kids that I don’t think had a lot of the same opportunities I had. I’ve been very blessed, and things have worked out really well for me. But it doesn’t happen like that for everybody.
“No matter what your situation is, it’s important to be able to give back and to understand other people’s struggles — and to be able to empathize,” he continues. “I think that’s the biggest (issue) for a lot of people. They’re not able to empathize, (and) they’re not able to put themselves in other people’s shoes. That’s the key, I think. That’s what allows these kids to open up to you and be able to connect to you.”
Philanthropic involvement and academic achievements aside, Brogdon is earning respect on the court too. He was named the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, becoming the first second-round pick in the NBA draft lottery era to earn the title and one of just two Milwaukee Bucks players in history to win the prestigious award. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nabbed the award in 1970.) This season, he is vehemently dedicated to helping the team advance further than the first round of playoffs. “We have a young but very talented team,” says Brogdon. “We have a great coach, (and) we have a great front office. It’s important for us to take strides this year. Making it to the first round of the playoffs isn’t acceptable for us. We want to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Whatever I can do (and) whatever my role has to be to get us there, that’s what I’m going to do.”
And in an ever-volatile industry like the NBA, how does a young yet accomplished player like Brogdon maintain his confidence on — and off — the court? “I had a coach in college, Coach (Ritchie) McKay, who always told me, ‘Don’t let basketball be your God.’ For me, that means that regardless of how you’re playing on the court (and) regardless of how basketball is going, it’s a game, and it can’t control your life. It can’t be your God,” Brogdon says. “… Basketball is going to come and go. The ball is going to stop bouncing at some point. You’re going to have ups and downs through your career, but that can’t determine what kind of person you are and whether or not you’re a light to people every day when you see them.
“It’s tough,” he adds. “It’s a battle every day, because there are going to be bad games. You have to be able to not be selfish. I’ve had days when I don’t have good games, and that will affect my mood. People can see that, and I don’t want to bring people down. So it’s about being positive and understanding that basketball is not everything.”