Milwaukee Bucks' Fans Celebrate NBA Championship With Parade
Updated Friday at 7:33 a.m. CDT
Thousands of fans lined downtown Milwaukee streets on Thursday to catch a glimpse of their beloved Bucks in a parade to celebrate the city’s first NBA championship in half a century.
Six police officers on horseback clopped past cheering fans at the head of a procession followed by former Bucks owner / former Sen. Herb Kohl as well as a hook-and-ladder fire truck carrying the Bucks' mascot Bango.
Fans could be heard chanting, “Bucks in 6!," an odd but beloved rallying cry with roots in former Bucks player Brandon Jennings' fruitless prediction in 2013 that the team would take down the playoffs' top seed at the time.
Jennings, who played for the Bucks from 2009-2013, and Marques Johnson, who played for the Bucks from 1977-1984, were in attendance at the parade. And, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made appearances as well.
Open-air buses and flatbed trucks carried Bucks stars, including Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, and head coach Mike Budenholzer, as well as the trophy they captured Tuesday night with a Game 6 victory over Phoenix.
Neil and Rachana Bhatia, both 34 and from Waukesha, brought 1-month-old son Zain to the Deer District, the area outside Fiserv Forum where the parade wrapped up. The couple said they wanted to give Zain an early taste of being a Bucks fan.
Neil Bhatia called winning the title “surreal.” “It unifies the city and puts the city on a global stage. It’s great for the city and the state. It’s just bringing everybody together to celebrate something that hasn’t happened in 50 years,” he said.
“The city has had its struggles. What I know is that it’s been a city that’s coming together,” said longtime Bucks fan Dameon Ellzey, 45, a Milwaukee native was at the parade and who lives near the arena.
“In my neighborhood, you could hear everybody on their porches screaming,” Ellzey said. “Black, white, Asian. In a city like Milwaukee, that’s big.”
At the celebration in the Deer District after the parade, thousands of fans gathered to hear speeches and revel in a sea of confetti and streamers. Bucks forward P.J. Tucker, known for his hustle and tenacity, told the crowd celebrating the win that he thinks he added toughness. "Like I got here, we already got dogs. They just don't know how to be dogs, and our dogs is crazy. We got dogs, you hear me, Milwaukee? We dog!," he said to cheers.
Milwaukee has long ranked among the most segregated cities in America. Team President Peter Feigin called it “the most segregated, racist place” he’d ever experienced, remarks he later softened. As the Bucks drove toward a championship this year, some people were cheered by the diversity of the massive crowds that gathered in the Deer District to watch the Bucks on big TV screens.
The team’s ascendance has invigorated a Midwestern city far from the league’s more cosmopolitan venues like Los Angeles, Boston or Miami — cities that have traditionally found it easier to attract the game's top players. One reason fans have embraced Antetokounmpo is his loyalty to the team that drafted him eight years ago when he was just 18.
"He recognizes the city and its quality and he resonates with it," Timothy Seymour, 20, said of Antetokounmpo. “He really reflects our work ethic. He works hard. And he reflects how we’re only going to get better.”
Police estimated 100,000 people jammed the Deer District for Tuesday night's Game 6. Though the coronavirus pandemic has lessened compared to a year ago, the level of cases in both Wisconsin and Milwaukee County still is rated by the state as high, with daily new cases in the county roughly tripling over the past two weeks to 80 per day.
City health officials noted Thursday that announcements of the parade had urged that unvaccinated people wear masks. Few were visible among fans on the parade route. The city health department said their contact tracing team would closely monitor the event.