By my count, as of two days ago, sports teams in Milwaukee had won 18 national championships all time. Nine of them are in indoor soccer (the Milwaukee Wave are the New York Yankees of indoor soccer and have won seven championships; the shorter-lived Milwaukee Rampage won two). Two are in minor league hockey (the Milwaukee Admirals have won one United States Hockey League championship and one American Hockey League championship). The Milwaukee Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League won the championship in 1944, their only year of existence. The Milwaukee Schlitz (I swear that was a real thing) won three men’s pro softball championships between 1979 and 1982.
That only leaves three championships in sports people care about, and they were all a long time ago. Marquette University won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament once, in 1977. The Milwaukee Braves (now the Atlanta Braves) won the World Series once, in 1957. And the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals once, in 1971.
You cheered for Milwaukee sports teams because you were loyal to your city, not because they were good. The current MLB team, the Brewers, has never won the World Series. They’ve only even made it to the World Series once, in 1982, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, which isn’t even possible anymore because the Brewers and Cardinals are both National League teams now. The Packers, of course, are Wisconsin’s team, and they are a much more successful franchise, but their most recent Super Bowl win was in 2011 and that’s their only championship this century.
Milwaukee is a city with lots of used-to-be. Milwaukee used to be one of the largest cities in the country. It used to be a manufacturing hub. It used to be the top beer-producing city in the world. It used to be a city that needed missile defense because the Soviets would find it worthwhile to nuke.
And, growing up in the Milwaukee area, you were told how the Bucks used to be good. They used to have Kareem and Oscar Robertson and had actually won the NBA Finals once. That always seemed like it was from another world, the world where Milwaukee was a huge manufacturing hub and people were thinking about mutually assured destruction. The Bucks were awful, and most people only went to games because it was easy to get really cheap tickets.
I’m not going to pretend I’m a Bucks fan. Of the four major North American professional sports, I care about basketball the least. But I watched last night’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals because Milwaukee had a chance to win something.
Boy, did they. The Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 in Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum in a hard-fought, back-and-forth game. Giannis Antetokounmpo (I almost spelled it right the first time, I wrote the “ou” as “uo”) put on an incredible show, dropping 50 and, most impressive for a big man, hitting 17 of 19 free throws. Between that and a clutch, impassioned performance from Bobby Portis, who contributed 16 points off the bench, anyone with a heart for sports would have enjoyed the game.
The arena was packed and tens of thousands of people were outside, just to say they were there when Milwaukee won something. The entire arena, the entire city it seemed, was chanting, “BUCKS IN SIX!” That’s a city-wide inside joke of sorts. In 2013, the team’s star player, Brandon Jennings, was asked by a reporter what the Bucks’ chances were in the playoffs. They were the last team in the playoffs, so they were facing the top-seeded superpower Miami Heat in the first series. Jennings, smiling, told the reporter the Bucks would win the series in six games.
They got swept.
George Will says that Barry Goldwater really won in 1964, but it took 16 years to count the votes and put Reagan in the White House. Well, Jennings was right in 2013, but it took eight years to put the team together and win a championship. Against the odds, too: The Bucks lost the first two games of the series, so the only way to win in six games was to win four games in a row. They did just that, one in Phoenix and three in Milwaukee, including the Game 6 clincher.
We don’t have to say the Bucks used to be good anymore. The Bucks are good, and Milwaukee actually won something. People from Boston feel this way roughly three times a year it seems, but for us Milwaukee-area natives, this is new and special.
Are the Brewers next? They’re in first place in the NL Central right now. . .