A Poignant Farewell to the Bradley Center

The Bradley Center was a complicated compatriot for many a good time. We say goodbye with a reflection on the good times had there and 5 memorable moments from the arena’s history.

The Bradley Center and I debuted in Milwaukee at around the same time. In 1988 I was a wide-eyed Marquette University freshman from western Nebraska. The arena was a gleaming, modern-day Colosseum. The occasion was a Marquette basketball game against Rice, and I was a proud young Warrior, ready for big-time college hoops. 

I passed through the turnstiles in awe of the Bradley Center’s majestic, glass-enclosed atrium and rode the escalator to the main concourse. I had played high school hoops in a small-town gym that barely fit 500 fans. Most of my hometown could fit in the 18,600-seat bowl laid out before me.

I’ve since spent countless hours being entertained inside the blocky Bradley Center. I’m excited about its replacement but melancholy about the demise of a familiar friend. Sure, the old building’s gray hues can be cold, its sightlines are better for hockey than hoops, and it feels like a mausoleum when empty seats are abundant. But I’ve learned to look past those flaws because of the quality time we’ve spent together.

I stormed the Bradley Center court after Marquette’s 80-68 dismantling of unranked rival Notre Dame in 1989. After that game, another college first: a visit to the Avalanche Bar, the legendary dive that was without a doorman that night. My Marquette years ended with commencement at the arena.

In 1996, I reveled in the spectacle of a rebooted Kiss with makeup back on and was nearly rendered deaf by AC/DC. I was wowed by U2 in 2005. But the greatest musical highlight had to be Paul McCartney, also in 2005, when my parents splurged on good seats and took me along. My dad’s inept dancing and horrific attempt at air guitar were troubling at the time, but it’s now a fond memory of my late father.

And I was there in 2003, when Dwyane Wade scored his 1,000th collegiate point in a Marquette win over a ranked Wake Forest team. That season ended at the Final Four in New Orleans (and I was there for that, too). A 2010 Bucks playoff victory against the Atlanta Hawks was the most raucous NBA atmosphere I’ve seen firsthand – the peak of which was Bucks mascot Bango’s backflip dunk off the tallest stepladder I’ve ever seen.

These are just a few of my memories. There are countless more held by generations of Milwaukeeans.

A Marquette loss to Providence tarnished my last visit to the arena, this February. After the buzzer, I walked up the stairs, turned around and took one last look at the emptying arena. The Bradley Center looked just as good as it had 30 years ago, when I was an 18-year-old kid.

Bradley Center Moments for the History Books

THE BRADLEY CENTER opened Oct. 1, 1988, with an NHL game (in a non-NHL city) and had its maiden musical voyage with Amy Grant. Its last public event was an April 30 Bon Jovi concert, but our old arena has a few more stories to tell. Matt Hrodey

NOV. 9, 1989

THE 5 OT GAME — The stuff of legend, this Bucks-Seattle Supersonics tilt described by Vice Sports as “arguably the greatest regular season game in NBA history” stretched to five overtimes and four-and-a-half hours. The Bucks won 155-154.

NOV. 1, 2000

EMINEM AND LIMP BIZKIT — Remember when Limp Bizkit was bigger than Eminem? Milwaukee’s stop on the Anger Management Tour featured the Detroit rapper on his way to superstardom and Fred Durst’s rap-metal outfit on the opposite trajectory.

OCT. 4, 2012

THE BRAWL AT THE BRADLEY — In a weird confluence of forces, groups of two opposing youth gangs ran into each other at a Bucks scrimmage and set to pounding on each other as the remainder of the audience scattered or looked on in horror.

SEPT. 25-26, 2015

GARTH BROOKS OWNS ALL — Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Elton John and even Yanni have taken the Bradley Center stage, but no one ruled the arena quite as Brooks did during these three sold-out shows – his first performances in Wisconsin in 19 years.

“Goodbye, Old Friend” appears in the August 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning July 30, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Dan Murphy has been reviewing bars for Milwaukee Magazine for roughly 15 years. He’s been doing his own independent research in them for close to 25.