For me, The Bradley Center is all about my dad. In the 23 years since we lost him, no place has connected us more. The joy of walking into the building, the ever-present hope for a Bucks win, and the thoughts of being there with Dad are with me each time I enter one of the four soaring atriums.
My first memories as a sports fan are going to Bucks games at Bradley Center with my Dad and brother John. I was 4 years old when the Center opened and will have just turned 34 when the doors close the final time. Since those early days, section 217 has always been sacred ground. Dad’s firm had their season tickets in Row D and tradition was for Dad to sit on the aisle abutting 218. In recent years, my sons Charlie and Stephen have shared my love for the Bucks and Bradley Center. We’ve shared countless unforgettable memories at the Center over the past eight years, including in section 217.
Those early years were the downside of the powerhouse teams of the 80s and the beginning of the long rebuild we endured for much of the 1990’s. By 1994 we had won the draft rights to select the Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson out of Purdue University, which signaled an exciting new dawn for the organization. Teamed with Vin Baker, the Big Dog had the star potential we needed to accelerate the rebuild. An Opening Night victory over the Lakers to start the 94-95 campaign, one which I vividly remember attending with my Dad and Brother, seemed to confirm the potential and promise of the future in Milwaukee.
The promising start and excitement for the 1994-95 campaign waned below our pre-season expectations, both on the court and at our Wauwatosa home. The Bucks were up-and-down throughout the season and ended with a frustrating 34-48 record. At home, the months of that season changed our family forever. Dad was diagnosed with Advanced Kidney Cancer in December and we lost him at the age of 42 in May. Through all these years without him, I’ve taken great pride in carrying on traditions that I knew he loved and that I remembered loving with him. Bradley Center was, and continues to be, a physical connection to those traditions that has remained fully intact all these years later.
Sports and Entertainment Facilities stand as so much more than places where games are played and songs are sung. These Community Gathering places mean a great deal to most that inhabit them. As a 10 year old without a father, Bradley Center immediately became a place that I connected with for present joys and happy memories. When we finally started making the playoffs again in the late '90s, I thought of Dad every step of the way, wishing he were in the building with us, but more importantly, proud to carry on the family tradition and stand in his place.
I feel that my story is the essence of what these facilities bring to a community. Not only do they link generations of families and friends, but more importantly, link generations of Milwaukeeans, Wisconsinites and human beings. The NBA game brings together a diverse, globally representative fan base. Through all the years I’ve attended events at Bradley Center, I’ve always felt surrounded by a group of people that truly represents the DNA of Milwaukee.
Jane Bradley Pettit’s gift of the Bradley Center stands as a defining link between generations of Milwaukeeans. The early '80s through the present day have been an era of profound change for our city. As a Midwestern manufacturing stronghold, Milwaukee has encountered significant racial and economic challenges navigating the postindustrial world. As economic and societal divisions further grew between people, the emotional connections inherent in sports and music became even more important.
While 30 years in the Bradley Center may seem too few for some, the importance those 30 years carry in the historical arc of Milwaukee should never be underestimated or under appreciated. In the last five years, our community was again asked if we value the diversity, fellowship and community impact a thriving Sports and Entertainment Center offers. Following Jane’s leadership, Sen. Kohl, Bucks Ownership and the community at large decided to further pay Jane’s gift forward by continuing to build the sense of community for future generations, that she has given us these past 30 years.
Over these next few months I will leave Bradley Center with bittersweet tears in my eyes. Long gone are the days of attending games with my dad, but so ever present are the smells and sights that make me feel as though I can still hear Dad yelling "Aw come on!" from his aisle seat in 217 as Todd Day committed another turnover.
Ahead are exciting days full of new traditions in the beautiful new building next door. A building that I am honored to play a small part in creating. Memories are already slight at the age of 10, but they can fade quickly as the years draw on. Connections and memories built at the Bradley Center have sustained me and brought me great joy for nearly 30 years. The gift of Bradley Center doesn’t end when we close the doors, it only grows bigger when we open the new doors next door. Go Bucks and Thank you, Jane!
Ben Juech is the VP of Brothers Business Interiors (BBI), the design and furniture division of Coakley Brothers. Juech and his colleagues used their design expertise and connections to manufacturers to recommend unique interior products and furniture for both the Sports Science Center and the Fiserv Forum.