With the 2018-19 NBA season over, resist the temptation to have a bitter, what-could-have-been taste in your mouth.
The two elegant women were standing on the outdoor balcony of Panorama Club, the chic Fiserv Forum bar that’s made it cool to watch a Bucks game from nosebleed seats. Popular during the regular season, it was a bona-fide tourist destination during the playoffs. Security manned each of the balcony’s two doors, and to minimize traffic jams, they even designated one door an entrance and the other an exit, creating a conveyor belt effect.
Most visitors hopped off the conveyor and hung out awhile, scrunching up against the balcony railing for a better look at the pregame partying in the Deer District far below. Such was the case with the two ladies, who’d come from Madison to watch Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors, and soon revealed they weren’t exactly die-hard Bucks fans.
From their perch amidst the revelry and overlooking more of it, they asked whether the Bradley Center was still standing, unaware that its rubbled remnants lay 100 yards to their right. Then they asked if the MECCA was still standing, not realizing it was the building just beyond the rubble that now wore the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena signage. Their questions answered, they remarked how lively things seemed these days around Fiserv Forum, calmly snapped a few pictures at the railing, and went on their way.
In seconds, their spot was filled by two men, who revealed they were very much die-hard Bucks fans. Decked out in Bucks jerseys and caps, beers in hand, they bellowed full-throated “Go Bucks!” while having their own pictures snapped. Afterward, they mused how a win that night would put them one game from the NBA Finals. They were convinced it was meant to be.
Only it wasn’t, of course, because that win wouldn’t come. Just three hours later, Fiserv Forum – so boisterous and outrageous and advantageous for the Bucks throughout their magical playoff run – was suddenly none of those things. As the final seconds ticked off from Toronto’s 105-99 Game 5 win, the most prominent noise came from a pocket of cheering Raptors fans in an upper corner of the arena. Beyond that, the air once so filled with anticipation now permeated resignation and contemplation of the future.
Two days later, after the Raptors won Game 6 in Toronto, there was no more future to contemplate, at least as it related to the present. The Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals, a date that seemed destined to belong to the Bucks. And with that wound still fresh, Toronto salted it, beating an injury-depleted Golden State squad for the NBA championship.
As long as there are Bucks fans, they’ll be convinced their Bucks should’ve lived the dream that now belongs to Toronto. They’ll point to flukes in the Raptors series – uncharacteristically poor shooting and occasional poor composure by Milwaukee, uncharacteristically great shooting by Toronto, particularly from Fred Van Vleet, who uncharacteristically turned into the second coming of Reggie Miller. They’ll lament how it would’ve been the Bucks to take advantage of Golden State’s woes while usurping their dynastic throne. And they’ll be right.
But there will also be some who’ll look at that ending and declare the entire season a failure, missing the monumental forest for a few poisoned trees.
This was a transformational season in Milwaukee, one that saw the Bucks plant their flag firmly in the NBA’s national psyche. Giannis is now a global superstar, and the Bucks have the necessary infrastructure around him to achieve amazing things. The wiseguys have faith. The Bucks sit atop ESPN’s way-too-early power rankings. And days after the season ended, every sportsbook you could find online had the Bucks as either the favorite or the second-favorite to win next season’s NBA title.
Fiserv Forum sits at the nexus of it all, the surest sign of success being how it beckons the casual fans and the committed ones alike.
They’ll be back. The Bucks, and everyone else, will be back.