Five years ago, the Bucks could only be described as the NBA’s version of Siberia.
Milwaukee had the NBA’s worst record, the league’s worst attendance, and by most measures, basketball’s worst facilities.
The Bradley Center had been already deemed unfit for NBA basketball, and the then-named Cousins Center was cramped and had a roof that leaked onto the facility’s only practice court. The Bucks occupied shabby office space in the old Milwaukee Theatre office building, with a staff that was the smallest in the NBA.
But amid the shambles of a once-proud franchise there was renewed hope earlier on that fateful day of April 16, 2014, when Bucks owner Herb Kohl stepped to the podium in the Bradley Center’s West Atrium.
“Please join me in what I see as the grand opening of a new era for the Milwaukee Bucks,” Kohl began. “And welcoming Wes Edens and Marc Lasry to the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and to Milwaukee.”
As part of the initial news of the sale of the team was the pledge of $200 million for a new arena; $100 million from Lasry and Edens, plus an additional $100 million donated by Kohl.
“We should be shouting from the rooftops, because this is a game-changer for this entire debate,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said after the new arena pledges were made. Barrett knew that without a new facility, the Bucks would be gone to Seattle, Louisville, Kansas City, or any of several cities with better existing facilities than Milwaukee’s.
So the arena debate began in earnest, with various proposals being given their due diligence.
Almost exactly one year after the sale, new team president Peter Feigin gave us our first look at what they envisioned for transforming the entire west side of Downtown Milwaukee.
“These are the early stages of our designs,” Feigin began, standing beside renderings of what would become both Fiserv Forum and the entire Deer District. Perhaps fittingly, Feigin was standing on the same spot in the Bradley Center where $200 million had been pledged one year earlier for the project.
“They reflect our owners’ vision of an arena designed with maximum flexibility that can accommodate varied sports and entertainment.”
Still, construction work would not begin for more than a year after renderings were made public.
Finally, after more than two years of deal-making, ground for what would become Fiserv Forum was finally broken on June 18, 2016, a watershed day for the Bucks, and for Edens.
“We did imagine this day,” Edens told WTMJ moments after ceremonial shovels moved dirt at the corner of N. Fourth St. and Juneau Avenue (at approximately the location of where the light-up Bucks logo sculpture is today).
“We talked about it right after we made the commitment to buy the team; do we need a backup plan? I said no, we don’t need a backup plan because there is no backup plan, we’re going to get this done.”
But there was other work to do. A new, first-class training facility was built to replace the old Cousins Center. A developmental league team was created – the Wisconsin Herd, playing at Oshkosh’s brand-new Menominee Nation Arena.
This past season, the Bucks had the NBA’s best record for the first time in 45 years.
“Over the course of the next 5-10 years,” Lasry said to the media the day he and Edens were announced a the team’s new owners, “(our goal is to) bring a championship to this city.”