The season from hell. Where everything went wrong. Where everyone got hurt. Where the coach could never install what he wanted to do. Where players fought with each other. Where a centerpiece was nearly arrested and definitely suspended. Where the team lost more games than it ever had before.
I thought for certain I would feel nothing but relief when this Milwaukee Bucks season ended.
But that was not the case.
I walked off the BMO Harris Bradley Center court for the final time for about six months on Wednesday night. I walked off right after watching Bucks players hand out their gear to fans anxiously awaiting the bounty. Giannis Antetokounmpo was sprawled out on the ground — looking every bit the 19-year-old he is — as he signed his shoes and prepared to hand them off. Miroslav Raduljica made sure to remove his insoles before his shoes went. Zaza Pachulia tossed away his jersey and warmups.
After the players left the court, all of the Hoop Troop and various other entertainment squads the Bucks deploy on the crowd on a nightly basis gathered at half court to get a photo. Their season had ended too.
Bango prowled the sidelines saying goodbye to fans who were eager to let him know how much they appreciated his efforts. Kevin Vanderkolk, the man who has been inside the costume for the past 13 years, is giving up the antlers after 13 years. The Bucks honored him with a “Bango” number 13 jersey and a ceremony that drew a standing ovation from the crowd and tears from his wife late in the fourth quarter.
Of course the loudest and longest ovation — and goodbye — was reserved for Herb Kohl. John McGlocklin made his way over to Kohl early in the evening and asked the fans to show him appreciation for everything he’s done for the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Bucks. He sold the Bucks on Wednesday and likely would receive official approval from the league on Thursday, at which point he would officially no longer be the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. That hasn’t been true about Herb Kohl since 1985. I was not yet alive in 1985 and I’m a moderately functional adult now. That’s how long Kohl has had this organization in his life.
And I say organization because Wednesday was a good reminder for me about everything that goes into a season. By game 82, we’ve seen the best and the worst of the players and they lose some luster. It’s easy to take for granted the effort they put forth every night and it’s even easier to take for granted the effort everyone around them puts forth every night. Especially for a cynic like me. I’ve been there and done that, so maybe each night isn’t as special as it once was, but these folks are all trying their best to make every night special for someone. That’s a cool thing.
So watching everyone say goodbye, to each other and the fans, made me feel like I was getting out of school for the last time. I could feel the optimism of another summer awaiting me outside the arena, despite the chilly weather. Was I relieved this season was done? A little bit. But it’s nice to get a reminder as to why I really do enjoy doing this still.
The walk off the court reminded me that even the season from hell isn’t really all that bad. So thanks to the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks, from the owner to the players to the PR team to the ushers.
We hope that this was the start of something even better than not “all that bad”.