Milwaukee Values and Why This Team Means so Much

The Milwaukee Bucks championship season means so much more than a parade and a banner. My grandfather, Bill, is a great example why

The quote above is from my grandpa, William (Bill) Alverson when he served as President of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 70’s. He had executed the trade that sent NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Los Angeles in an attempt to get enough of a haul to keep the team relevant. Still, the franchise was in rough shape and he had to fight to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Today would have been his 88th birthday, and in the wake of the Bucks’ first championship in 50 years, I can't help but think about how proud he would have been of the organization. More importantly, he would have been proud of what the organization has done for our city. 

Not too long ago, Milwaukee was on the decline and we were on the verge of losing the team. Today, the Bucks are NBA champions, our downtown has made immense strides- modernizing and developing around a new stadium, and our collective display of pride and unity on a global stage has set a new bar for fan support across sports. Most importantly, the Bucks organization and the city as a whole have continued to exemplify the values of humble hard work and camaraderie that Bill embodied. 

The story of how we got here is an incredible one. 

When a team in a small market isn't performing, the city can always feel prospective ownership in larger markets breathing down their necks. Repeatedly throughout the Bucks history, we have been extremely close to losing the franchise. The mid 70s was one of those periods, and Bill, alongside then General Manager Wayne Embry, fought successfully to keep the franchise in the city. 

8 years ago we were as close as ever to losing the team. Our stadium was horribly outdated, we were the worst team in the NBA with a 15-67 record, and Milwaukee was a downward spiraling beacon of rust belt depression. Senator Herb Kohl, the team’s owner, had been shopping the franchise around, and despite a desire to keep ownership local, Milwaukee is not exactly a hub for billionaires who would want to buy an NBA franchise.. 

We were expecting to lose the team. 

Our downtown was outdated, violence was on the uptick, and Wisconsin politics were making extreme polarization the status quo years before it took hold nationally. Even if we kept the team here, who would want to play here? Even I skipped town for Denver, sick of the atmosphere in the city and devoid of the hometown pride I knew in my younger years. Milwaukee looked to be following the typical rust belt storyline of once great cities decaying into an insignificant dot on the map. It was hard to watch. 

At the time, the Bucks seemed to be a perfect embodiment of the city's issues. Not only was the team awful, but the organization itself had failed to keep pace with the NBA’s modernization. The Bradley Center, a brilliant example of how quickly the world ditched 80s design, was a dark concrete labyrinth filled with subpar concessions and tattered stadium seats; which were blue for some reason. In an attempt to keep fans engaged, the Bucks ditched the purple and green in favor of a visually offensive red and green palette. 

Right in plain sight, our luck began to turn. 

Nobody had expected new ownership to keep the team in Milwaukee, but when a sale was finalized to Wes Edens and Marc Lasry in 2014, the New Yorkers expressed a commitment to keeping the Bucks in town. Almost as soon as the sale was completed, NBA notified the Bucks that if they had not completed a new arena by 2018, the league would buy the franchise and sell it to prospective ownership groups in Seattle or Vegas. Doubts about the intentions of our new owners evaporated as Edens and Lasry, working closely with Senator Kohl’s network, jumped into action and secured the necessary financing and approvals to build. 

We began the 2018-19 season with a new stadium, head coach, and General Manager. By the end of the season, we had a 60-22 record, a league MVP and elite scorer on our roster, the Coach of the Year and the Executive of the Year. The area around the stadium was developing fast and the economic benefits to the city were immediately felt. The stadium was even scheduled to host the Democratic National Convention, using the new facilities for the event. 

The governance, management, and team created something meaningful; a new stadium, an elite organization, and a winning culture. Beyond that, the team brought the city together like I have never seen before. Our heads were held a little higher, and it felt like we had a waving flag to rally behind. Walking through downtown earlier in the playoffs, I saw fans of opposing teams welcomed by locals who could not be more thrilled to show our city off. Even blocks away from the stadium, the atmosphere was ecstatic and intoxicating. 

As the Bucks closed out game 6 of the NBA finals earlier this week, the world got to see just how deep pride for our city runs. Stephen A Smith compared the scene in the Deer District to Woodstock, and panoramic cameras were set up by every major network looking to capture the scene of over 65,000 fans outside of the stadium. By all accounts, the crowd was excessively polite, followed directions from law enforcement, and put on an incredible display of midwest kindness. 

This year's champions were built around Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton; home grown talent who have been with us since our lowest days. Around them, hard working, humble, and passionate players like Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, PJ tucker and Bobby Portis, who have been lionized not for their talent alone, but for their embodiment of the blue collar midwest grit we value so deeply in Wisconsin. 

The reason I wanted to share this through the context of my grandpa Bill is because he embodied these traits and it's inspiring to see a city hold on to its values through some high highs and low lows. Bill valued hard work for the sake of hard work. He was fiercely loyal, cared deeply about Milwaukee, and was humble to a fault. Despite almost losing the team again and rebuilding from the ground up, the values he embodied managed to stay with the Bucks all the way to this point. Just as the franchise was an accurate representation of us at our lowest, the team today epitomizes a revitalized city steeped in the same values and culture.  

Bill did not get to see the Fiserv Forum completed, or our playoff run in the 18-19 season. He did not get to see this championship and the absolutely wonderful display Milwaukee put on for the world. Nor did he get to know the players on this team that so beautifully embody the values we hold as a city. But he kept the team in Milwaukee and helped instill the values that the franchise of today represents so well. His fingerprints are still on this team, and he would have been so proud of what this has turned into. 

So let me say this on his behalf,

To our team- thank you for the way you represent our city and our values. You didn't just win, you won the hard way. 

To our organization- thank you for the grit and determination. We see and appreciate the time and passion you put in to keep the dream alive while we were at our lowest.

To our ownership- thank you for believing in Milwaukee. You have shown a willingness to take the hard path, and your continued commitment to the city means more to us than you can possibly imagine.  

And to my fellow Bucks fans- We’re champions, our city is the place to be, and we accomplished all of that without losing ourselves. That's something we should all be proud of.

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