The Milwaukee Bucks’ stay at the BMO Harris Bradley Center is nearing its end and for the significance it holds in terms of the franchise’s overall scope, the era it defined leaves behind a complicated legacy.
After 30 long years, the Milwaukee Bucks’ stay at the BMO Harris Bradley Center is nearing its end.
Monday night marked the final regular season home game held at the building, which the Bucks capped off with a 102-86 win over the lowly Orlando Magic. With their second straight trip to the postseason looming, the Bucks have the chance to give the place they’ve called home for over half of the franchise’s existence a proper send-off by earning a long awaited playoff series victory against their yet to be determined first round opponent.
For a large swath of Bucks fans who have now grown or are growing into adulthood, the Bradley Center may stand as the only place where they’ve experienced Bucks basketball in person, or even NBA action in general.
Having been around this long, it’s hard not to have some level of attachment to the place, no matter whether you’re young or old and/or have gone to the Bradley Center all throughout its lifetime or only started following the Bucks in recent years.
Of course, a large portion of that has to do with how it all came to be as the construction of the arena quite literally saved NBA basketball in the state of Wisconsin, as relocation rumors swirled around the team before former owner and U.S Senator Herb Kohl assumed ownership of the team in 1985.
Kohl didn’t stand as the only figure with Milwaukee ties to help keep Bucks basketball in the area where it belongs as both Jane and Lloyd Pettit funded the Bradley Center project and donated the building as a gift to the city of Milwaukee to succeed the team’s then-aging home, the MECCA (now UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena).
A generous act of that magnitude certainly hasn’t been lost on all Bucks fans throughout its lifespan, leading to a full circle moment when similar circumstances arose throughout the push to make the team’s upcoming home, the currently named Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center, a reality during 2014 and in 2015.
But once the Bucks finally broke in their new surroundings starting in the 1988-89 season, the team’s then-identity took a different shape, primarily for the worse.
Throughout their three decades there, the Bucks have experienced 10 winning seasons at the Bradley Center, the current campaign being the most successful since the 2009-10 season in terms of record. To paint this picture even further, the Bucks have only won two playoff series, both coming during the team’s most recent high point in the 2000-01 season.
Simply put, what Bucks basketball represented at the time of the Bradley Center’s inception devolved into something else entirely as many, if not all, of the franchise’s low points came during the team’s time on the corner of Fourth and State Street.
Having been so starved of continued success, the highs in the Bradley Center, ranging from its incredible playoff atmosphere with sold out crowds, have come too few and far between during its existence.
Of course, a long list of factors have obviously led to the Bucks primarily looking to the future to inspire hope among a fanbase that is wanting to reach the team’s early heights after all these years of futility, a state the organization is striving to move beyond, but have yet to fully rid themselves of at this point in time.
All of those reasons are why Bucks fans are clinging to the team’s upcoming change of scenery to their state of the art facility as an act that could represent a sort of rebirth for a franchise and an ownership that holds championship aspirations. There are plenty of obstacles that stand in the way of the Bucks ultimately realizing that hope, or even at a minimum regularly competing within the Eastern Conference and the NBA as a whole.
That’s where the conundrum ultimately lies in reflecting on the Bucks’ 30-year stay at the Bradley Center. We all hold our own memories or have had formative experiences that have made our bond of following the Bucks something we prize, even through all the headaches that come with a fandom such as this one.
But what are the lasting images or touchstones that defines the era of Bucks basketball in the Bradley Center? Is it the high points of the “Big 3” era during the late 90s-early 00s? The many stops and starts that have extended the Bucks’ middling phase? What about the superstar evolution of Giannis Antetokounmpo that has graced the building’s last few years?
If anything, the rather undistinguished legacy of the Bradley Center Bucks might be the most fitting way to summarize these last 30 years of Bucks basketball.
That doesn’t diminish the piece of history it represents to the Bucks organization, the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin as a whole. Without the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Bucks, as we know them, simply wouldn’t exist today.
But in keeping with the theme of Bucks basketball over the last couple of decades, we have no other choice but to hope the team’s new home next door doesn’t house similar results and can be looked back on more fondly than the era that the BMO Harris Bradley Center unfortunately represents for everyone.