Fifty years ago the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals (1971). Since then, they’ve only been back once. And that was in 1974. Yeesh. Well, on July 3, 2021, that changed. The Bucks beat the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals 4–2 (BUCKS IN SIX!) to clinch the series and advance. For the first time in over 45 years, the Bucks are back in the NBA Finals.
If it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, let’s put things into a little bit more perspective.
Milwaukee, WI is a city that seems big only to those that live in it or grew up around it. To the rest of America, or the world even, it’s known as a “small market.” Milwaukee has a population of about 587,000 (per the Population Review), so it’s not exactly booming to the New York’s or Chicago’s of the world. But, coming from a kid who grew up in a town of 1,000 people, Milwaukee was no small market.
Growing up, I was a hometown sports fan. I cheered for the Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks. Speaking of small markets, there was a time the town of Green Bay itself had a population LESS THAN Lambeau Field’s attendance seating! That means on game day, the football field housed more fans than the entire town.
Outside of our ridiculous luck with back to back Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers), the Brewers and Bucks were terrible. Absolutely sucked. And that’s putting it mildly. The Brewers never made the playoffs. The Bucks found a way to randomly do so, but then proceed to get beat by the likes of Rik Smits or David Stern (see 2001 ECF, Sixers conspiracies).
The Brewers annually lost 90–100 games a season (out of 162!). The Bucks were no better percentage wise (annually losing 40–50 games out of 82!). But, they were our teams and my family and friends continued to go to games year in and year out. I guess the good thing about sucking so bad is that tickets are pretty cheap. I remember being a kid and my mom taking us to Brewers games for like $5 a ticket. Or getting low level Bucks tickets for maybe $35–40? Now, those are costing you a bit more, as both are good and playing playoff caliber ball.
The city of Milwaukee seemed so big though, as a kid, because I was able to go to so many games. I’d see all the bright lights, big arenas or stadiums, and think how larger than life these players were/are. I looked up to them. Here in Wisconsin, we don’t really have much, and while that’s something I truly love about the state now, back then, sports was literally it.
Wisconsin is home to beer, cheese and more beer. We’re the kings dating back to the brewing days of yore. We are well known for cheese products, lakes, fishing and farming. When we say we’re going on vacation, we don’t mean to another state’s beach or the ocean or a different country, we usually go “up north” camping in the woods. To us, that’s the life. A simple, small market life. I love it.
Sports was our way to truly escape Wisconsin life though, and seek a different way of life. When other city’s teams came to Milwaukee or Green Bay, it was as if we went on our own little vacation. It was neat seeing a warm weather team (think, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Chargers) come to frigid Green Bay, WI in December. While we were used to wearing shorts in 20 degree weather, other teams were dressed to the nines in winter gear.
When other big market teams like the Lakers, Bulls or Knicks game to Milwaukee to play the Bucks, it was a once a year event. Like, hey, the superstars and celebrities have to come to us for once. It truly felt like we were on center stage for once in our lives. I’m 36 years old, so for the Bucks to be in the NBA Finals now, it literally is the first time in my life (I was born in 1984).
When Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners came to Milwaukee to play the Brewers, now those were your premiere games. They sold better than opening day almost. EVERYONE went to those games. A chance to see “The Kid” or the Yankees or the Red Sox? Now that is a treat vacation. It’s as if our small market is no longer a small market but the big time.
With the Milwaukee Bucks reaching the NBA Finals, all of Wisconsin knows how much this means. It’s more than an opportunity to win an NBA Championship. It’s about the culture. It’s about finally beating the big guys. It’s about building a team the right way and not being able to just buy a superteam every year. We can’t. We just now are spending money only because this is our first, legit shot at a title since the 1970’s. The 1980’s was never going to produce a championship because of having to go through the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, etc. The Bucks were a good team in the 80’s, but always had those playoff walls they could never hurdle. The 1990’s was, as mentioned earlier, a decade long dumpster fire.
This Milwaukee Bucks team is headlined by a Greek Freak. I mean that in a positive way, too, as Giannis Antetokounmpo is the superstar we’ve been waiting for. A once-in-a-generation type player. If he were to retire tomorrow he’s already in the NBA Hall of Fame. He’s a back to back two-time MVP (2019–2020).The 2020 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s made numerous All Star teams consecutively and the same for the All NBA Teams. Basically, he’s our new savior. Sorry Aaron Rodgers.
The Milwaukee Bucks have come close as recently as 2019,as they jumped out to a 2–0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors. The Bucks fell apart and everything went to Hell. Kawhi Leonard took over and Nick Nurse outcoached the deerlights out of Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer. The Raptors went on to win the NBA Finals and suddenly the countdown was on to see if Giannis Antetokounmpo would leave the only NBA team he’s ever known.
Giannis ended up staying loyal to the team that drafted him and did not choose the bigger market. Giannis stayed loyal to his best friend and teammate Khris Middleton (who re-signed the year before last to remain in Milwaukee). Giannis has always said Milwaukee is his second home to Greece and will never leave the city until he brings it a championship. That just doesn’t happen in sports today. It doesn’t happen to Wisconsin. It certainly doesn’t happen in Milwaukee.
We’re used to getting shunned for bigger markets. Musicians will skip Wisconsin for tours. I can’t tell you how many times me and my siblings would hear about an artist or group going on tour only to see them hit Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa or Minnesota and always skip Wisconsin. The same with any event being held ever. I get it though. We don’t have much. We’re the land of beer and cheese remember?
But this time, it’s different. The sports world has no choice but to pay attention to us. The Milwaukee Bucks will be on center stage starting Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The NBA Finals will be broadcast to the entire globe. Giannis is an international superstar. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all star caliber players. They support Giannis in perfect harmony. Our other players in Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, PJ Tucker, etc. are just the type we need to achieve the ultimate goal.
The ultimate goal in all of sports is to win a championship. The Bucks have the team to do so. While they may not have Giannis at full strength (hyperextended knee), the time is now. You only live once, and you only get so many opportunities. While the bigger markets of the world aren’t behind the Bucks, I know all of Wisconsin is behind them, supporting in full.
As for my NBA Finals prediction? BUCKS IN SIX, obviously. Fear the Deer.