The day has finally come. It’s late October, the temperature is hovering around the freezing point, and there’s excitement in the air. People are in surplus, the shops are packed to full capacity and the wait at the fastest restaurant is an hour. No one cares though, because, well, why should they?

***

Amid this abysmal 1 – [insert high, up-to-date number] stretch by the Bucks, it’s too easy to forget about our earlier victories. I’m not talking about on the basketball court, rather, in government buildings, behind lecterns, and written in paper. These were the victories that mattered; any wins now are a bonus.

When Senator Herb Kohl sold the Milwaukee Bucks franchise to New York hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, a quiet concern crept into the minds of Bucks fans. On the surface, there were good vibes: Senator Kohl pledged a whopping $200 million to a new arena and the new owners gave ardent “NO’s” to the prospect of leaving Milwaukee. This was the stuff making headlines and reaching national news outlets. But still, Wisconsinites sensed danger. Would these financially focused hedge fund managers ship the Bucks to Seattle, Las Vegas, or some other NBA-needy city at the first hiccup of the approval process? And beyond ownership control, who knew if an arena proposal would even pass the courthouses. Even if no one was outright saying it, things were gloomy in Milwaukee.

***

It’s still about two hours until the opening tip, but people are heading inside regardless. It’s tough to know if they’re getting away from the cold or just antsy to witness history. Probably both. Looking around, you can tell that fans are ever so slightly uneasy. It’s a small subtlety, but it’s present nonetheless. Change is a hard pill to swallow, and despite definitive improvements, a desire for tradition is evident.

***

The odds were stacked up against the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. And somehow, the Bucks decided to break tradition by exceeding expectations and fighting through the obstacles, the biggest one being the need for a new, up-to-current-standards stadium. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave Lasry and Edens a hard deadline: a deal for a new arena must be in place by November 2017 or else the league has the right to buy back the Bucks. These terms were made public on the day the Bucks were sold, and it was becoming more and more pressing with each passing day. But like I said, Milwaukee, including the front office executives, government officials, and most importantly, the people, came through.

On July 15, 2015, the State Senate passed the new arena proposal with a vote of 21-10. Then, on July 28, 2015, the State Assembly similarly passed the proposal with a 52-34 vote. These two steps were by far the trickiest ones of the entire legislative process. For one, larger government ordeals operate notoriously slow, and the Bucks needed answers as quickly as possible. Then, there was the harsh presence of the opposition. Those against the construction of a new arena argued that financial resources could be better allocated to schools or some other, non-sports related domain. This was fair criticism, but for Bucks fans like myself, there was an equally important matter on the line, and it was standing face-to-face with extinction.

August 12, 2015 marked the day that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed and approved the new arena proposal. This was not the end. On September 22, 2015, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 12-3 in favor of the proposal. At last, on March 24, 2016, the proposal got the last needed authorization from the Common Council. Construction could finally begin.

It’s hard to underestimate the complexity of this entire situation, including the diverse factors that helped achieve this once-upon-a-time very lofty goal. The slow, legal business (which I merely overviewed) was only one realm of a multifaceted approach to retaining the Milwaukee in the Milwaukee Bucks.

***

Fans are beginning to make their way to their seats. The edge is just about gone, and reality is setting in. Climbing up and down stairs are Parkers, Antetokounmpos, Makers, and Middletons, all anxious to see their efforts paid off. It’s still an hour before the opening tip, but the ceremony is about to begin. The hero owners come center stage, and a calming stillness washes over the crowd. Ears become perked, mouths closed shut, and applause is on the brink of ready hands. It’s happening.

***

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks’ 2014-2015 campaign was a godsend to the city of Milwaukee. No one person expected the turnaround that the Bucks would make, and rightfully so. A very much unproven Brandon Knight was the best player on a team stuffed with naïve youngsters and aging veterans. But you know how the story goes: everything clicked, and at just the right time.

Would the new arena proposal have been able to gather the support if not for the Bucks’ surprising record? We’d all like to think so, but lawmakers and investors don’t often possess feelings of optimism about a historically mediocre entity. They care about the now, and now, the Bucks were winning games. Playoffs were no longer a prospective aspiration, but a current reality. Despite questionable personnel moves by Hammond and company, the Bucks remained competitive (albeit not as much as before) and took their border rivals to six games in the postseason. It was a hard fought series, and made me proud to be a Bucks fan. I’m sure I’m not alone. As expected, the people of Wisconsin fought for their team, and likewise, the proposal garnered massive support.

***

The Milwaukee Bucks are just fifteen minutes away from playing in the season home opener. The last wave of fans has reached their seats. Everyone wants to needs to witness the player introductions. A booming voice comes through an improved PA system: “And here are your Milwaukee Bucks!” Chills all around. Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Bucks… it’s Milwaukee’s Bucks. Emotions become overwhelming. The Bucks were born in Milwaukee, raised and succeeded in Milwaukee, and will now live their prime adult years in Milwaukee. These thoughts fade away in favor of the real-life moment, as fans become aware of the PA voice yelling: “GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO!” Out jogs a Cream City legend. The crowd erupts like no BMO Harris Bradley Center has ever before. It’s the best goddamn feeling in the world.

***

The road has been strenuous for the city of Milwaukee and their Bucks. Full disclosure: I’m from New Jersey. Through some twist of fate, I’ve become the biggest Bucks fan on the Eastern seaboard. It’s been about ten years now, although it feels like much longer. I’ve experienced the ups and downs with joy and sadness. With that said, everything I feel now is so, so miniscule compared to those emotions that are surely present among all Wisconsinites. Wisconsin deserves the Bucks, and the Bucks deserve Wisconsin.

***

It’s game time. Both teams’ players are on the court, patting the backs of opponents they’ll be battling within a matter of seconds. Fans are standing, becoming louder and louder as our center makes his way to half court. Everything has led to this point. This is the climax of a four-year plus development. Fans present will recount this memory to their children and grandchildren. The now just feels immeasurably surreal. There are only a handful of times in life when time slows down. This is one of them. The ref tosses the basketball high into the air. As it pushes against the pull of gravity, Bucks fans near and far breathe. Milwaukee is the home of the Bucks.

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