In a place unique to Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Bucks took another step towards carving out their place in Milwaukee last night.
In a special ceremony at the most signifying piece of Milwaukee’s skyline, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Bucks unveiled a new court design. The design takes some cues from the famous Robert Indiana court design that helped the Bucks standout in the late 70s through most of the 80s. It’s a simpler, cleaner take for a different era in the NBA.
But the event felt like a fitting cap to a summer that has seemed to be about a new identity for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Last year left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Stories came out that the locker room was a toxic place, but it was hardly any more toxic than the public perception of the Bucks in Milwaukee. Even those who self-identify as Bucks fans seemed fed up with the organization and an apparent lack of direction. If the trade of Tobias Harris wasn’t the proverbial nail in the coffin for many, the 28 games that came after and an embarrassing playoff sweep of double digit losses was.
And, for as often as they have been the butt of jokes and complaints lately, the Bucks are not an organization without awareness. They know about that Wisconsin sports teams logo that leaves them off in favor of a college team. They know attendance numbers at the BMOBC haven’t been great in quite a long time. They knew that last spring wasn’t good enough. A playoff appearance is something that can be sold, but it’s a much more difficult sell if that playoff team can’t be built on and isn’t likable.
They entered this summer knowing they had work to do to win back popular support in Milwaukee and around the state of Wisconsin. So they went to work.
Most importantly, the roster has been cleansed. The new core, Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo, is a group of players that are all relatively young and offer varying degrees of upside. The team seems to believe in the work ethic in each of them and has pinned hopes of future success on that group. They have brought in veterans to be positive influences and hopefully push these guys in the right direction.
But the Bucks have focused on smaller details as well. For the first time ever this year, Milwaukee will have a fan fest before the team’s annual open practice. When the team had an introductory press conference for Caron Butler, they had it at a high school in his former hometown Racine, Racine Park. When the team announced Sanders’ contract extension, they did it at a local Boys & Girls Club because that’s a cause that’s passionate to him and the community.
The grand unveiling Tuesday night was another step in this direction. Former broadcaster and recent Hall-of-Fame inductee Eddie Doucette was prominently involved as the Bucks looked to connect a successful and meaningful history to an uncertain future. Doucette was there for everything that was good about the Bucks at one time. He watched the construction of a championship team. He saw an extended run of success that spanned over multiple nuclei. When Doucette talks, there’s some real weight to his words. I suppose that’s the kind of thing that lands someone in the Hall-of-Fame.
He acknowledged that the Bucks have struggled since that run of success, but he spoke with great confidence about the journey the Bucks are about to embark on.
“These people are going to be players, folks,” Doucette said while glancing at Sanders and Henson, seated in the front row of the event. “They are getting better all the time. Every night they go out there, I can guarantee one thing: You’re going to see young players that give it their all. Because they know the people in Milwaukee give it their all every day.”
Doucette continued on with his pitch to an audience of players, fans, employees, media members and everyone else in the museum, all pretty much hanging on his every word at this point.
“So my plea to you, in this short period of time, is to enjoy what you’ve got to look forward to in the years to come,” he said. “Take time, get to know these young people, because they will get to know you if you allow that to happen. Be patient and think about the hope of developing another championship team. Not necessarily with the expectation that it has to happen this year. Because it won’t happen this year; we have to be realistic. But it’ll be good. And with your support, it’s going to become even better.”
Authentic was the word that kept coming to my mind when listening to Doucette pitch the 2013 version of his beloved Bucks. Maybe this team isn’t going to be great right away, but he believes in the people building this thing. He believes they know what they are doing from a basketball perspective and he believes that they care about doing things right in Milwaukee and for Milwaukee.
For the first time in a long time, people in Milwaukee may start to believe that as well.