Lifelong Milwaukee Bucks fan Dan Roberts is often quick to attract attention.
A mountain of a man at 6 feet, 9 inches tall and 450 pounds, Roberts has long dealt with the stares and finger pointing because of his size. But a brief moment on the Jumbotron at Fiserv Forum during a Bucks’ pivotal playoff game has transformed Roberts into a celebrity of sorts. Roberts’ newfound fame has blossomed to the point where he’s often mobbed by fellow hoops fans wanting to slap high-fives and have photos snapped with him.
The transformational moment came during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals as the Bucks battled the Atlanta Hawks at Fiserv Forum.
During a timeout, the camera panned to Roberts, who decided that he would try to rile up the crowd by guzzling the large-size beverage he held in his hand, which most figured to be a beer.
“It was actually a mixed drink,” Roberts explained as he sat on a bench in the Deer District outside Fiserv Forum on a recent sun-splashed morning.
It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill, watered-down mixed drink, either. The cup contained Old Forester bourbon, a touch of Diet Coke and several ice cubes.
“I didn’t plan on being on the screen but as soon as I was, I knew I had to chug my drink,” Roberts said. “It took me a little bit longer because I was chugging through ice cubes, but everybody was watching so I kept going. In my mind it took forever, and I thought I had lost the crowd with this insanely slow chug.”
It was at that moment that Roberts would make a decision that would make him an instant celebrity.
“I figured I had to one up myself, so I tried to rip my T-shirt,” Roberts said. “But I struggled. Right as I finally started to get it to rip this lady who was sitting next to me comes out of nowhere and grabs the shirt and helps me finish the job.”
With the camera still fixed on him, Roberts mouthed “Bucks in Six” while holding up five fingers on his right hand and the index finger of his left.
“I didn’t plan on being famous but then the entire arena erupted in a ‘Bucks in Six’ chant. It was the coolest thing,” Roberts said.
When the chant died down and the game resumed, Roberts realized that the episode had caused him a bit of problem.
“I realized I’m shirtless and I thought this is a little weird,” Roberts said. “So, I picked my shirt up off the floor. Clearly, there had been some spillage on the ground, but I pulled it over my head and thought this was not planned out very well.”
Roberts wears a 4XL long, a size the arena pro shop doesn’t carry, so he was stuck wearing the tattered T-shirt.
“I just tied it and wore it like a vest,” he said.
After the game, as the crowd filed out of the arena, jubilant fans high-fived Roberts and asked him to pose for photos.
“I thought that’s where it ended,” he said.
In reality, his moment in the spotlight had just begun.
As Roberts and his friends waited for an Uber at a nearby tavern, a group approached him and yelled: “Hey, you’re that guy from Instagram.”
Unbeknownst to Roberts, footage of his shirt-ripping moment had been shared on social media and had, in short order, generated tens of thousands of views.
“I thought, oh boy, I did something here,” Roberts said.
When Roberts returned that night to his home in New Berlin, he walked in with his head held low as he tried to explain to his wife, Allie, what happened.
“I said ‘Allie I did something.’ She just looked at me and said what happened to your shirt?”
Allie Roberts accompanied her husband to the Deer District on this morning and was watching over the couple’s 1-year-old son, Ethan, as her spouse of eight years told his tale.
“It was a $35 shirt that he had rushed delivered to our house,” she blurted out, a note of exasperation in her voice.
The long-sleeve green Bucks T-shirt had arrived shortly before Dan Roberts departed for Fiserv Forum that life-altering evening.
“I put it on and 20 minutes later I ran out the door,” he said. “Three hours after that the shirt was ripped to shreds.”
Raised in Milwaukee’s southwest suburbs, Roberts, 33, grew up attending Bucks games with his father.
His early memories of the Bucks are of early playoff exits.
This year’s team is a far different story. Led by stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, the Bucks have reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 and only third time ever since the franchise joined the league in 1968. Led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) and Oscar Robertson, Milwaukee captured its lone NBA title in 1971.
“It’s been really, really exciting,” Roberts said of the Bucks extended run in the playoffs.
Roberts’ popularity blossomed after his “Bucks in six” prophecy came to fruition in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I’m really glad they pulled it off, otherwise I was going to have a real identity crisis,” Roberts said.
His shirt-ripping escapades have carried over to the NBA Finals and he’s once again predicting that Milwaukee will be crowned champions in six games. The prognostication is one game from becoming a reality, as the Bucks lead the series against the Phoenix Suns three games to two after Milwaukee’s stirring come-from-behind win on Saturday night in Arizona.
Allie Roberts got to see her husband in action for Game 4 in the series, which the Bucks won in a tightly contested tilt at Fiserv Forum.
“It was the first time I brought her to a playoff game,” Roberts said. “People were running up to me and asking, ‘Are you going to do it?’ But we were down the whole game. When I ripped it the first time, we were up by 11 points, so there was all that high energy.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, sensing that his beloved Bucks needed a jolt of energy from the crowd, Roberts knew the time had come to shred another T-shirt.
“I looked over at Allie and I said: ‘This is it. We might lose but I have to do something.’
Roberts, who works as a copywriter in the marketing department at Menomonee Falls-based Kohl’s Corp., insists he’s not the nervous type, but a wave of anxiety took hold as he waited for the camera to shift in his direction.
“I was standing there holding my beer and I was just shaking,” Roberts said. “I felt bad for the guy in front of me because I probably dumped a few ounces of beer on his head.”
Finally, the camera focused in on him.
“I chugged my beer and I ripped my shirt and then I just felt like the crowd got back into it,” Roberts said. “I don’t claim that win, but I will do anything I can for the team. I felt like that was the turning point.”
Once again, fans clamored for photos with Roberts.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Allie Roberts said of all of the attention being focused on her husband. “It’s kind of surreal.”
She said she was shocked when Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell and Bucks great Michael Redd wanted to have pictures taken with her husband.
“We really are just normal people,” she said.
This isn’t Roberts’ initial brush with fame, however.
The first came while he was a student at South Dakota State University. In 2012, the Jackrabbits won the Summit League tournament and earned a trip to the NCAA tourney. Roberts and some friends packed into a van and made an 1,100-mile trek to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to watch their school take on a highly touted Baylor squad.
“I was in a fraternity, and I was always the life of the party and hyped up at sporting events,” Roberts recalled.
For South Dakota State’s game in the Big Dance, Roberts and three of his friends painted their chests to spell out “SDSU.”
“At that game, we were on ESPN, and we were trending on Twitter because the three friends I was with are very small and very skinny and I was the giant “U.” That was my first sporting event fame.”
Leading the South Dakota State team that year was Nate Wolters, an honorable mention All-American who would become a second-round draft pick of the Washington Wizards in the 2013 draft, the same year the Bucks took Antetokounmpo in the first round, a move that would change the fortunes of the franchise.
On the night of the draft, the Wizards traded Wolters to the Bucks, leaving Roberts excited that his South Dakota State classmate would be playing for his beloved hometown team.
Roberts made sure to attend Wolters’ first home in a Bucks uniform.
“I ran down and high-fived him and he said something like ‘Thank God. I’m so glad you didn’t show up in body paint this time,’” Roberts said.
As fun as the shirt-ripping phenomenon has been, it hasn’t been appreciated by everyone, Roberts has realized. When he shredded his shirt while attending a watch party inside Fiserv Forum when the Bucks were playing at Phoenix, Roberts said he encountered trouble with security personnel who escorted him out of the arena without ever offering an explanation. Fans loudly booed as Roberts was being led out.
But he said all is good, as far as he’s concerned, so he made light-hearted posts on social media about the incident.
“I didn’t want it to turn negative,” he said.
Roberts admits that he’s enjoying being part of the hype that has surrounded a Bucks team that’s on the verge of making history.
“I want the spotlight to be on the Bucks but it’s crazy how many people recognize me wherever I go,” he said.
At the same time, Roberts knows the clock is ticking on his “15 minutes of fame.”
“I asked my mom, who is the most supportive person, where on the 15-minute clock she thinks I am. Am I at three or four minutes or 13 or 14 minutes? She said, ‘Oh, you are definitely at 37 minutes.”
It’s all in fun, said Roberts, who hopes to be inside Fiserv Forum for Game 6 on Tuesday night, when the Bucks could clinch the NBA crown.
“I’m a nobody,” Roberts said. “I’m just a fan that did something that resonated with people.”
Will the Bucks secure a victory Tuesday night and defeat the Suns in six games?
“They have to, to fulfill the prophecy,” Roberts said.