Bucks have come a long way in a short time

Ross Litscher, Sports Editor

The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 135-110 on Jan. 29. Despite playing a Pelicans squad without their top three players due to injury, Fiserv Forum was nearly sold out as the Bucks, as expected, rolled over the depleted Pelicans team to improve to 33-17 on the season.
The overall atmosphere was incredible for an ordinary January regular season game, as TV timeouts were filled with festivities for the birthday of the Bucks’ mascot “Bango” which was very entertaining. The cherry on top of the night was Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring 50 points on 20-26 shooting, making everything look effortless.
After all this happened inside, my eye was drawn to the empty lot next door to Fiserv, which is the former home of the Bradley Center. All this reminded me just how far the Bucks have come as a franchise and how far we’ve come as fans.
For many people my age, our first memories of Bucks basketball weren’t all that great. Despite headline players such as Ray Allen, Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut putting up numbers, it rarely resulted in wins on the court. After Allen lead the 2001 Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks would go on an 18-year drought before they would win another playoff series.
But it got worse than losing on the court; the Bradley Center was beginning to show its age in the late 2000s and it started to fall behind the standard of NBA arenas. The Bucks in the early 2010s, despite some fun teams led by Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis, were at risk for relocation due to the need for a new arena and the NBA questioning whether Milwaukee was still fit to host an NBA team.
You see this a lot in sports with smaller market teams. While the bigger markets such as LA, New York and Miami often get more leeway when things go bad, smaller market teams such as Sacramento, Memphis and Milwaukee struggle with revenue if they don’t have a superstar, win games or have a fancy new arena.
NBA relocation talks have been heavy since 2008, which is when the Seattle Supersonics were relocated to Oklahoma City, leaving Seattle without a team for the first time in 41 years. The Kings and Bucks were at the top of the rumors in the early 2010s to relocate to Seattle due to both teams struggling to win and needing to replace aging arenas. The 2013-14 Bucks season began with commissioner Adam Silver deeming the Bradley Center as not up to code, which meant that the Bucks would be forced out of Milwaukee after the 2017-18 season (when the teams Bradley Center lease ended) if they hadn’t started construction on a new arena by 2018.
That season, the Bucks finished with the worst record in team history and in the NBA that year at 15-67. But somehow, this disaster of a season ended with hope for the future. Before the season began, the Bucks took a chance with their first-round draft pick by taking a chance on the talented but very inexperienced Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Greece at No. 13 overall.
Fast forward to the end of the season, right before the Bucks’ home and season finale against the Atlanta Hawks, owner Herb Kohl agreed to sell the team to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, which included provisions towards construction of a new arena, to ensure that the team stayed in Milwaukee.
My favorite memory of that season was that Hawks game, where Herb Kohl got a standing ovation for keeping the team in Milwaukee earlier that day.
Right after that, a skinny 19-year-old Giannis euro stepped his way for a dunk, a glimpse of what was to come in the future. Despite losing their 67th game of the year 103-111, the energy around the team was better than it had been in a long time that day.
The next decade saw the Wisconsin Senate approve funding for the new arena in 2015, construction start on Fiserv in 2016 with it opening in time for the 2018-19 season. That same season saw the Bucks win their first playoff series in 18 years and then just two years later, the Bucks were NBA champions for the first time in 50 years, beating the Phoenix Suns in front of an attendance of 17,397 (plus over 65,000 more in the Deer District).
This time also saw Giannis grow into one of the best players in the league and in Bucks history, as he became the first Buck since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the ‘70s to win the league’s MVP award.
So as the current Bucks go for their fifth straight central division title and hopefully another deep playoff run, it’s incredible to look at the state of the team now and enjoy what a long road it’s been to get here.