My moment of Milwaukee Bucks nostalgia has already come and gone.
It showed up last Monday night in the car. I was listening to WTSO-AM/1070 when the Bucks put the Game 4 dagger in the Boston Celtics and announcer Ted Davis threw out his patented game-clinching call of “It’s in the bank and earning interest.”
That phrase brought me right back to my childhood bedroom — laying in my semi-lofted bed, watching my lava lamp and listening to the Bucks on my stereo speakers. The “in the bank” call always let me know it was time to roll over and sleep — Ray Allen and the boys had done their job for the night.
And that’s what makes sports special. Even as a Bucks fan, when a negligible number of those childhood games had any bearing on the grand scheme of the NBA, there are moments surrounding the sport that stick with you more than any single game or play.
But that nostalgia is over for now. I can’t imagine what today’s kids are experiencing watching the best Bucks season in more than 40 years — not to mention what the Brewers have done for the past calendar year.
There’s no need to dwell on the past. The switch flipped when the Bucks stuck the final dagger in the Celtics Wednesday to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001. This is the first time the NBA Finals have been feasible since that Game 7 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers 18 years ago.
Top-seeded Milwaukee awaits the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between No. 2 Toronto and No. 3 Philadelphia, teams the Bucks went 5-2 against during the regular season. Looking a step further, two-time defending champion Golden State has looked relatively vulnerable, even before Kevin Durant left Wednesday’s game with a calf injury that the team will re-evaluate next week now that the Warriors have gotten past the Rockets with Friday night’s series-clinching Game 6 victory in Houston.
It’s still going to take multiple breaks for the Bucks to end the season holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the size of those necessary breaks are decreasing the deeper the playoffs get.
Chasing a dynasty like the Warriors limits the pressure on the rest of the teams, as there haven’t been any expectations to knock off Golden State.
While the Warriors’ team of All-Stars has somewhat bucked the trend in recent years, small-market NBA teams aren’t meant to win the title. Eleven teams have won the championship since 1980, including 34 of the 39 titles coming from the Celtics, Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs.
Larry Bird, Red Auerbach, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich — a small number of individuals determine what’s going to happen in the NBA.
With that frame of reference, watching the Bucks doesn’t bring the same sense of expectation and entitlement that goes with watching the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs — and that can be a good thing.
Milwaukee is trying to break into the group of one-time winners since 1980, joining the 1983 76ers, the 2011 Mavericks and the James-led Cavaliers of 2016.
The Bucks, who boast their own potential league-shifting star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, are going to give it a shot.
And they appear to be having a blast. It was obvious down the stretch of Milwaukee’s 116-91 win Wednesday, with the entire team celebrating while George Hill was finishing alley-oops and Tim Frazier was threading the needle to Malcolm Brogdon for a fast-break layup, even getting a wry smile out of the stoic Brogdon.
Sure, it’s easy to be happy when you’ve won eight of your first nine playoff games. But the contrast was obvious on the same court as the Celtics, who haven’t hidden their disdain for each other and their roles on the team. Instead, the Bucks play a game that allows them to fly around on both ends of the floor, shoot 3-pointers whenever there’s a glimmer of space, and orbit around the energetic Antetokounmpo. That’s a fun style of ball and one that makes the Bucks feel like a completely different team than the one that was led by ball-dominant volume shooters for much of the 2000s.
It’s not just the style of play that’s new — so are players, coaches, general manager and ownership. The on-court Bucks might as well be a new team, while the organization took it a step further heading into the 2018-19 season. A new arena, the Fiserv Forum, and revitalized downtown district have given Milwaukee a completely different atmosphere.
The organizational upheaval couldn’t have come at a better time. There wasn’t much drawing fans to the Bucks from 2002-2017, but the players and the organization kept their heads above water, ensuring the team stayed put and this playoff run wasn’t happening in Seattle or another potential NBA city.
Instead, it’s putting a stamp on the heyday of modern Milwaukee sports. Enjoy it while it’s here. Whether you’ve always been a fan, have someone close to you that you’d like to see happy, want to see a new champion, like Milwaukee, like Giannis, like deer, like to party … there are dozens of reasons to follow along for the next two weeks to a month. It’s not guaranteed to happen again.