As far as the NBA regular season is concerned, there is no greater stage than Christmas Day.
Teams picked for the spotlight get sole possession of the sporting world’s attention. Being scheduled to play on this day is the rubber stamp a franchise needs to signify its place among the league’s elite.
The Bucks will host the Golden State Warriors at Fiserv Forum on Friday afternoon, and the enormity of the occasion should not be lost on anyone. This is the first game to be hosted on Christmas in the city since 1968 — the Bucks’ first season in the NBA.
On that day, Milwaukee fell to the Detroit Pistons 119-113 at Milwaukee Arena. The Bucks have the opportunity to avenge that loss this afternoon.
A legendary franchise figure as a player and broadcaster, Jon McGlocklin remembers that day well. He tallied 15 points in the historic game.
“Christmas Day back then was still special,” McGlocklin said. “Depending on your age and if you had family, it impacted you a little in getting ready for the game, but for us anything that was on national TV in that era was a big deal.”
Acquiring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end of the 1968-69 season, the Bucks were thrust into the spotlight, though, the current-day glitz and glamour of the NBA lifestyle was not quite the same.
“I know in ’69 we played in Detroit during the holiday period,” McGlocklin said. “The team took us out that morning, which was unusual in that era because we didn’t have charter flights. I recall being in Detroit downtown and the hardest thing about it was finding a place to eat. In those days they didn’t take care of everything for you, so I ate in a bus station for a pregame meal.”
So long shunned from the national media spotlight, the Bucks’ place on Christmas now seems assured for the near future behind back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 26-year-old recently signed the richest deal in NBA history to keep him in Milwaukee for at least the next five seasons.
McGlocklin played alongside Abdul-Jabbar and had a courtside seat to watch Antetokounmpo’s rise. He sees parallels in both players’ time in Milwaukee.
“Once Kareem came, we suddenly started getting the national spotlight. We got a little taste with Kareem of what today is like,” McGlocklin says. “Now you fast forward to today with Giannis, who has absolutely exploded in front of us from a young, green kid to a great player. It’s an amazing thing to have watched, so now for this group of owners and the city to have this attention, I think we will revel in it.”
While there won’t be fans at the game due to the coronavirus pandemic, McGlocklin’s long time broadcast partner, Jim Paschke believes the event will provide a further boost to the growing reputation of the franchise and city.
“It will be great exposure for this wonderful city, which is getting more and more attention as a travel destination,” Paschke said. “The world will get to see more than a few glimpses of our gem of a city, all of which is great for the area’s future economy.”
Fans or no fans, a 52-year wait ends today, and that in itself deserves to be celebrated.
“Christmas Day is a big stage and you really feel that the world is watching,” Paschke said.