After the Packers lost the NFC Championship and the chance to go to the Super Bowl back in January of this year, it was hard to not feel the pain of how many close calls and almosts Wisconsin fans have endured. Wisconsinites approach every playoff berth, semifinal and series with skepticism.
I even made a video about it:
Then, in walk the Milwaukee Bucks
Much better writers than me have written about what this team and this championship mean to Milwaukee. It’s so much bigger than basketball. I’ll probably take the weekend to more eloquently gather my thoughts, but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite articles I’ve read through this journey and some of the content I’ve made along the way.
- “Giannis and Khris: A partnership forged through years of battles to push each other, and the Milwaukee Bucks, to the pinnacle of the NBA” – Jim Owczarski, Journal Sentinel
- “‘Milwaukee, we did it baby’: Tens of thousands of Bucks fans gather for the title parade through downtown” – Bill Glauber, Journal Sentinel
The Bucks success story is a grassroots one. The team came from nothing — almost being sold to Minnesota and only winning 15 games one season — to an NBA Championship win in front of a home crowd. They didn’t do it with money or corporate greed as many super teams like the Heat, Warriors or Lakers have.
Instead, they did it the right way by drafting future star “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo and trading for his partner-in-crime Khris Middleton from the Pistons. The duo could’ve simply been traded away after a few unsuccessful seasons early on. But in a unique, non-NBA manner the Bucks built a powerhouse team around these two with the veteran additions of Bobby Portis and PJ Tucker.
For years, Milwaukee was the overlooked NBA team that offered an easy road win for the likes of Lebron or Steph Curry. It’s safe to say that’s changed.
Game 6 Scenes
I’ll let you judge, but check out these scenes from game 6 and let me know if the Bucks still look like that small-town franchise they were a decade ago.
A Metaphor for the City
The Bucks’ unlikely rise to the top of a widely popular national basketball league is not just an entertaining success story, but also a metaphor for the city.
Milwaukee is often depicted by republican leaders in the state as a sore spot, where leadership is flawed and quality of life is low. From hating (and blocking) its public transportation efforts to defunding the city entirely, there isn’t much love for the two groups.
ESPN hosts even called Milwaukee a “terrible city” when discussing having to travel there.
Similarly, the Bucks are often — or were– overlooked nationally. The team rarely had national press coverage until recently and even star Giannis continues to face strong criticism. Throughout the playoffs, pundits argued that he has weak offensive versatility and coordination.
So, how did the Bucks and Milwaukee prove everyone wrong with their playoff run and championship win? On and off the court, the city showed grit and unity that defied its poor reputation. 65,000 people gathered at the Deer District for the game 6 win, not to mention the thousands that did so every playoff game for months.
Giannis overcame a concerning injury to ultimately carry the team with spectacular performances. Milwaukee simultaneously pushed through a traumatic pandemic year to come together and support the Bucks.
These parade scenes depict that unity. Problems aside, all that matters in this city is the fact that the Bucks won a national title.
A Moment of Realization
It’s hard to comprehend how a team winning just 15 games a season could be transformed into a world-class team capable of beating Durant’s, Kyrie’s and Harden’s Nets and overcoming a 0-2 deficit in the Finals series.
Given Wisconsin’s traumatic recent sports shortcomings, it will take some serious time to get used to the idea that Milwaukee has the best basketball team in the country right now.
The success story also shows hope for the city of Milwaukee as well, which has faced problems upon problems for years.
The city has some of the worst segregation in the country thanks to redlining and divisive infrastructure projects like the I-94 highway. It also faces high crime and poverty rates.
But, as seen with the Bucks’ turnaround, things can change with the right decisions. The Bucks showed that the city can also overcome its problems with planning and patience.
Voting activism, infrastructure redevelopment and more transparent politics can change the city from seemingly “terrible” to one of the best in the country.
The Bucks did it, and so can we.