MILWAUKEE (AP) – Much has changed in Milwaukee since the Bucks won their last NBA title half a century ago.
Nothing reflects these differences better than the melting pot of fans that flock outside the Fiserv Forum for playoff games. Fans will head there again on Sunday in hopes of helping the Bucks rebound from a 0-2 deficit in the NBA Finals when they host the Phoenix Suns in Game 3.
The diversity of crowds is surprising when you consider the history of Milwaukee.
Team president Peter Feigin stepped back five years ago after calling Milwaukee “the most segregated and racist place I have ever known,” but LaNelle Ramey, 49, a native of Milwaukee and black, thinks it needs to be said.
“It made longtime Milwaukee residents here look in the mirror, especially those who didn’t want to believe it,” said Ramey, executive director of MENTOR Milwaukee, a Bucks-supported organization that encourages education programs. mentors for youth zone.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he was not personally offended by Feigin’s comments in 2016. Barrett noted the diversity of his own management team, adding: “I am also very aware that we have a very large income gap, a education gap, a security breach, not just in the city of Milwaukee but throughout southeastern Wisconsin. “
Feigin believes that what the Bucks have done off the court is at least as important as what they have accomplished on the court.
When asked when the Bucks’ proudest moment is, Feigin doesn’t mention the Eastern Conference title the team just won. Instead, he cites the players’ decision not to take the field for a postseason game inside the bubble at Walt Disney World last year, following the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
His decision led to a postponement of league-wide playoff games.
“It really sparked a global hiatus and awareness of social justice,” Feigin said.
Barrett said the Bucks “not only embody the team spirit that you see in every player, but they also embody the community spirit that wants to be a part of the community. This has been the case since the day they arrived here. “
The involvement of Bucks players in social issues is nothing new.
Recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, Bob Dandridge, who played on the 1971 Bucks champion team and the 1974 team that lost the NBA Finals to Boston, said there were a lot of outspoken players – they speak on these teams.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s activism led the NBA to award a social justice award named after him. Oscar Robertson filed a lawsuit that helped bring free agency to the NBA. Dandridge also did not hesitate to share his opinions.
The difference today, according to Dandridge, is the support that players receive from management.
“I think the approach is totally different when it comes to frankness from homeowners today and homeowners from the 1970s when I was in Milwaukee,” Dandridge said.
Team leaders also released a statement supporting then-Bucks guard Sterling Brown after Milwaukee police took him to the ground and shocked him with a taser in January 2018 for a parking violation. Brown, one of the leaders of the Bucks’ protest in the playoffs last year, sued the city and eventually reached a $ 750,000 settlement.
When Feigin took over as president of the Bucks in 2014 after Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan bought the team, the franchise was in trouble.
Milwaukee’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 was the only time the Bucks made it through the first round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2018. The Bucks played at the Bradley Center, one of the oldest halls in the NBA.
“It was like finding a unicorn, finding a Bucks fan six years ago,” said Sean Marus, a 28-year-old Bucks fan from Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee.
The time has changed.
Marus was one of more than 9,000 fans who turned out for the Fiserv Forum to follow on a video screen Tuesday the first game of the NBA Finals played by the Bucks in Phoenix. Bucks officials said another 20,000 fans gathered in the “Deer District” outside the stadium for three years.
“It doesn’t matter what color you are,” Brandon Cunningham, a 27-year-old Milwaukee resident, said outside the Fiserv Forum before the first game. “Everyone is there to support the Bucks.”
The Bucks are committed to social change in Milwaukee and across the state.
Bucks players visited a prison last season to highlight the need for criminal justice reform. The Bucks joined the Sacramento Kings in a “Team Up for Change” summit, with debates on police brutality. They led a protest march through downtown Milwaukee after George Floyd’s death.
After Feigin a fait ses commentaires sur Milwaukee in 2016 alors qu’il s’exprimait lors d’un event of the Rotary Club in Madison, in Wisconsin, the ensuite I published an indiquant declaration qu’il faisait référence aux divisions économiques et géographiques from the city. As the mayor pointed out, these problems still exist.
Angela Lang, CEO of Milwaukee-based Black Leaders Organizing Communities, believes activists lobbying on issues like police accountability, spending disparities and clean water have had an impact on unifying the people of Milwaukee. .
“While we are still far from perfect as a city, with this amount of activism and organizing, we feel like we could be on our way to something concrete in the next few years,” said Lang, whose organization promotes civic engagement by black residents.
According to Lang, the Bucks are an important part of this change.
“It seems they are not just one team,” Lang said. “They are actually integrated into a part of our community.”
On the court, the Bucks’ trip to the NBA Finals has energized the city, which suffers from the loss of the Democratic National Convention last year due to the pandemic.
The Bucks’ turnaround began in 2013, when they signed two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to the 15th pick and acquired Khris Middleton from the Detroit Pistons. Before this season, the Bucks added point guard Jrue Holiday, who quickly made an impact on the city.
Holiday donated part of his 2019-20 salary to start Jrue and Lauren Holiday’s Social Impact Fund with his wife. His foundation recently opened a second round of funding to provide up to $ 1 million in grants to black-led businesses and organizations in Milwaukee, as well as the New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles areas.
His contributions have allowed him to win the favor of fans seeking a championship.
“They made it known that it was as important to them as it was to us,” Holiday said.
If the Bucks manage to win their first NBA title in 50 years, it will give Milwaukee people of all backgrounds one more reason to have fun together.