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Despite Finals Game 1 Loss, Milwaukee Bucks Success Brings A Bit Of Unity To The City

Deer District
Chuck Quirmbach
Bucks fans stand on Vel R. Phillips Ave. in downtown Milwaukee and try to see the game on video screens in the Deer District on Saturday evening.

The NBA Finals get underway with two teams that haven't been there for decades — the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks. It's been 28 years since the Suns made it to the championship round, and 47 years for the Bucks.

The Milwaukee Bucks move on to Game Two Thursday night, down one game to zero in the best of seven series. The Suns, behind star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker defeated the Bucks Tuesday night, 118-105.

But there was some good news for Milwaukee. Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo came back from a knee injury to play 35 minutes in Game 1 and scored 20 points.

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks puts up a shot over Torrey Craig #12 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of game one of the NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on July 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Bucks 118-105.
Christian Petersen
Getty Images
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks puts up a shot over Torrey Craig #12 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of game one of the NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on July 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Bucks 118-105.

Antetokounmpo said he did a lot of rehab since getting injured a week ago. "From my treatment, lifting, getting on the court, pool sessions, keeping my foot elevated. You know 24 hours a day," he told reporters after the game.

Antetokounmpo said he felt fine playing Tuesday, and hopes his knee doesn't swell up Wednesday. He said he wants to focus on improving his performance and helping the Bucks win Game Two.

Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer said there will be a lot of effort against the Suns' Paul. "Seeing how we can take away some of the rhythm. Make it so he's not getting to his spots easily," the coach said.

The Bucks have lost the opening game of their two previous playoff series, but came back to defeat Brooklyn and Atlanta. Now they're trying for a turnaround against the Suns.

The Bucks' success has brought a little bit of unity to Milwaukee, a city with big controversies.

Milwaukee's only NBA Championship came in 1971, when basketball icons Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson swept past the Baltimore Bullets.

The chance of a win this year has brought about 16,000 people to playoff games inside Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum and several thousand more to an outdoor plaza that's part of the Deer District to watch home and away games on large video screens.

A racially diverse crowd cheered wildly Saturday night, as the Bucks closed out the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference final.

A white woman, Karen Smith, said she hopes a Bucks championship would be a unifying catalyst to help repair divisions in the city. "It's awful. It's awful. This absolutely could be the chance. It very well could be," she said.

But those divisions are deep. COVID-19 has hit harder in Milwaukee's Black and Latino neighborhoods, where city officials say there is greater poverty and systemic racism. There have also been years of protests over police shootings of Black men. Blacks males in Milwaukee also face higher incarceration rates and there is higher unemployment in Black neighborhoods.

Still, a Black man, Karvell Jones, said the Bucks seem to unify people. He said, "Unity is important. With unity you got harmony, and that right there equals love. And, if you've got love, then hey, what's to fight about, what's to riot about, you know, what's to hate about?"

Greg Shepherd, another Black man, remembered the Bucks only championship and wants another. But he doesn't share the optimism about the team being a panacea.

"No, can't heal everything. No," Shepherd said.

But others seem energized by the Bucks players — especially two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was born in Greece to Nigerian parents.

Outside a private hangar at the Milwaukee airport about 100 people cheered the team before its flight to Phoenix.

Bucks fans gather
Chuck Quirmbach
Sunday afternoon, fans gather outside a private hangar at the Milwaukee airport to cheer on the Milwaukee Bucks prior to their flight to Phoenix.

Scott Silet, who's white, said he's a little worried about Antetokounmpo's knee injury that has kept the superstar out of two games. But he added that the ownership seems committed to the whole city.

With Antetokounmpo out, the Bucks had to rely on other top players like Jrue Holiday to advance.

Holiday, who's Black, told the media Saturday night that he's aware the fans are coming together behind the team.

"I would definitely say the fans and the interaction with the fans, they've made it known that it's just as important to them, as it is to us," he said.

The challenge for the Bucks is the Phoenix Suns have never won an NBA Championship, and many in Arizona say this is their time for the community togetherness that a sports title can bring.

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