MILWAUKEE — Standing outside Fiserv Forum in a massive crowd that grew larger by the second, Lue Lueck wore a green jacket in the style of the Milwaukee Bucks’ 1971 championship team, dreaming that this would be the night he’d see another.
“I came down here because I think we’re going to win, and I want to say I was here,” said Lueck, 38, from Madison.
His hunch proved correct, as the Bucks clinched the title with a 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
The Deer District in downtown Milwaukee became the center of the city’s celebrations as the Bucks neared their first NBA title since 1971. It encompasses Fiserv Forum, several cavernous bars and restaurants, and of course, the plaza where thousands of ticketless fans gathered to root for Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates throughout the playoffs.
City leaders predicted the throng might hit 65,000 Tuesday night, a figure that would dwarf the 10,000 or so who crammed into “Jurassic Park” outside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena when the Raptors went for the title in 2019.
The enthusiasm surprised even the Bucks’ owners, who opened the $524 million arena in 2018 and saw the plaza become a popular gathering spot the following summer, when the Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference finals.
“We hoped people would come, but I don’t think we ever envisioned it like this,” Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry told the Milwaukee Business Journal earlier this month. “It is a unique experience and one that is so great for the city.”
The space has also hosted yoga sessions, family movie showings, art fairs, festivals and public viewings of major sports events like the 2019 women’s World Cup final. But high-stakes Bucks games are when it really comes alive, said Carlos Anguiano, 30, of Milwaukee.
“Just being here, you can feel the energy right away,” he said as bass-heavy music pummeled the air before tipoff. “It’s a lot different from staying at home and watching TV.”
On Tuesday night, the arena was a glass and steel island amid an ocean of humanity — diverse, young and overwhelmingly clad in Bucks green. It was so dense that even the king-size screens were hard to see through the crowd; you had to listen for the cheers or groans to know what was happening on the court.