The Bucks’ championship was a long time coming. A half-century after the team burst onto the NBA scene with a title in its third year, Milwaukee is again on top of the league.
There have been longer droughts in sports, of course. The Cubs’ 108-year streak comes to mind (but anyone can have a bad century). This one stung because the Bucks were so good so early in their existence. Three years after their 1971 title, they were back in the finals. That loss to the Celtics was the most recent appearance up to this year.
The resurgence really began with the 2018-19 season, when the Bucks fell in the conference finals. Last year’s bizarre season, which concluded in a playoff bubble after a long layoff, was the exception with a conference semifinals exit. This season there was a real sense that the team viewed it as title or bust.
We can hear the questions now. Why are we spending the time talking about a team in a city four hours’ drive away, one that had vanishingly few people wearing their gear just a couple years ago?
Fair question. We’ve seen far more Bucks’ gear on people in the Chippewa Valley over the past few weeks than we have in years. Are most late to the party? Sure. But winning does create a bandwagon and, after the way 2020 went, we’re not surprised to see people latch onto just about any reason to celebrate.
The intriguing thing from a sociological perspective is how the Bucks’ run has shifted the state sports landscape. The Packers have always been Wisconsin’s team. Their legacy has seen to that, and their fierce rivalry with the Vikings helps ensure the line is clearly drawn at the state border.
What about the Brewers? They certainly have a statewide following, but that’s due to the remarkable Bob Uecker on air as much as the results on the field. The team’s sole pennant came almost 40 years ago, in 1982, and they still haven’t won a World Series. The team’s sizable lead in the NL Central is reason for hope, but they still haven’t quite had that breakthrough season.
The Bucks? Until the past couple years people in most of Wisconsin would have assumed you were talking about hunting. This year definitively changed that, clearly making them the third pro team with a statewide following.
There’s reason to think that shift means something for more than just the team’s bank account. Think for a moment about the size of the crowd in the Deer District outside Tuesday’s game. A crowd estimated at 65,000 — roughly the size of Eau Claire — gathered to cheer during the game and celebrate the win. Amid the excitement we doubt too many were thinking about whether their fellow fans were Republicans or Democrats, or whether their view on any subject other than the Bucks was relevant for the moment.
We’re not going to suggest sports can solve everything. That’s obviously not true. But there are enough examples over time of teams bringing people together, providing a moment of relief from tensions, that it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Despite the events of the past several years, we still believe that what unites us as Americans is greater than that which divides us. We don’t believe most people have moved as far from the center as it sometimes seems the major political parties have done. We need to do a better job of communicating with each other, of seeing things through each other’s’ eyes. But such shortcomings are different from unbridgeable divides.
Sports isn’t a panacea. Perhaps it’s a lesson and an aspiration. Can we allow ourselves to see each other through other lenses than partisanship? Can we dispense with simple, all-too-often erroneous labels and turn instead to the effort of finding solutions that let all of us grow and succeed as a community? We have work to do in our communities and in our nation if we are to return to an ability to disagree civilly with each other. It’s a challenge. But it’s important work.
For the moment we’ll just offer a slogan that most of the state agrees on:
Bucks in six!