Last updated on July 22nd, 2021 at 01:09 pm
The Milwaukee Bucks have won the NBA championship.
Their 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals marks Milwaukee’s first NBA title since 1971, when the team was led by Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson under coach Larry Costello.
Fifty years later, superstar forward and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, 26, is now an NBA champion, eight years into his Bucks career — with at least five more still to come thanks to a supermax contract extension he signed in December. Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks in Game 6, scoring 50 points.
Antetokounmpo, known as the Greek Freak, was born in Athens, Greece to Nigerian immigrants. He came to the U.S. in 2013 after being drafted 15th overall by the Bucks. Antetokounmpo’s talent and international star power has given the Bucks and Milwaukee a spot on the international stage – and that was even before the championship title.
During his post-game interview Tuesday night, Antetokounmpo said he didn’t imagine winning a championship the way he did when he signed his contract extension, but it was a goal he was determined to achieve for the team and the city that launched his NBA career.
“I just I couldn’t leave (as a free agent). There was a job that had to be finished … I was like, ‘This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us … Obviously I wanted to get the job done,” he said.
The Bucks claimed their Game 6 victory with about 80,000 people watching inside and outside the downtown Milwaukee arena, according to reports, including a sold out crowd of about 16,500 inside Fiserv Forum and an estimated 65,000 watching outside in the surrounding Deer District — not to mention the millions of TV viewers tuning in around the globe. Deer District has drawn tens of thousands of fans each game night during the playoffs and the spectacle has captured the attention of the national media.
The city of Milwaukee has been front and center throughout the Bucks’ historic playoff run, basking in the national limelight while also benefitting from the influx of spending at downtown bars, restaurants, hotels and other businesses.
That level of economic impact, which VISIT Milwaukee estimates to be at least $3.7 million for each home game of the NBA Finals, comes after a devastating year for Milwaukee. The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed hopes of a full-scale Democratic National Convention, which was promised to be the city’s big moment. It also upended what had been a momentous 2019-20 season for the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA in the regular season, which was suspended and then resumed in a “bubble” environment in Orlando, where the Bucks were upset by Miami in the Easter Conference Semifinals.
And Fiserv Forum, the team’s two-year-old world-class entertainment arena, sat vacant for the next 11 months.
The scene on Tuesday night, as fans went wild over the ultimate “Bucks in 6” victory, was a stark contrast from last year’s empty arena seats and quiet downtown streets during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also looks nothing like the Milwaukee that 1971 Bucks team knew.
When current Bucks majority owners Marc Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan purchased the franchise in 2014 from former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, they vowed to keep the team in Milwaukee and work to craft a public-private partnership to build a new $524 million arena for the team. They also made plans to develop the 30 acres of land surrounding the arena with public space and mixed-use buildings. This fall, construction will begin on the next phases of Deer District development: a 205-room boutique hotel, called The Trade Milwaukee. The team has said it’s the first of two hotel properties they’d like to develop in the Deer District.
A championship title had always been the back drop of the new owners’ big plans for the Bucks. And on Tuesday night, the team delivered on that ambition.