Basketball pilgrimage: Bucks will play a game at the MECCA this season
The Milwaukee Exposition, Convention Center and Arena was the Bucks' home court when they won their only NBA championship – in 1971, back when it was still called the Milwaukee Arena – and this year, for the franchise's 50th anniversary, the Bucks will commemorate the historic, beloved old venue by making a pilgrimage back to the MECCA for one very special night.
The team announced on Saturday at the third annual Bucks Summer Block Party that it will play a game at the MECCA – which has had multiple name iterations and is now the UW–Milwaukee Panther Arena – in the 2017-18 regular season. It will be the Bucks' first game there since 1988, when they compiled a 582-209 home record and made 16 playoff appearances in the approximately 11,000-seat facility.
"The announcement of the return to the MECCA was the perfect way to tip off our 50th season and is just the beginning of what we expect to be a year-long celebration," Bucks CMO Dustin Godsey told OnMilwaukee.
It's a cool, inimitable move, and, from a brand perspective, a savvy one to appeal to the nostalgia of Milwaukeeans and the sentimentality of previous generations of Bucks fans. It also felt fitting to hear the announcement at the team's Summer Block Party, at which a year ago ground was officially broken on the new arena and, half a mile from the team's Schiltz Park offices where this year's event was held, the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center is going up fast. With their future home being built, and a young, exciting squad that turned heads last season, the Bucks are paying homage to their vibrant, illustrious basketball past.
Details of the game and the opponent will be released at a later date. Team president Peter Feigin said the decision was nearly a year in the making, and the operational elements, including security, lighting, camerawork and more were part of the extensive planning process.
"What can be more fitting to celebrate 50 seasons of the Milwaukee Bucks than returning to the venue that holds so much of the franchise's history?" Feigin said. "It's going to be such a unique and special occasion for our current players to take the court at the MECCA and for our fans to experience the early era of the Bucks."
Indeed, Bucks guard Malcolm Brodgon said Saturday he was excited to play at the Arena, comparing it to the intimacy of high school games.
The Bucks played at the Milwaukee Arena/MECCA from 1968, their inaugural year, until 1988, when they moved to the Bradley Center. Those two decades were the organization's most successful seasons, including the drafting of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar No. 1 overall in 1969, capturing the league championship in 1971, winning 12 division titles and regularly selling out the Arena. Also during that time, the complex itself became a major attraction, featuring concerts by The Beatles and Bob Dylan, serving as the home court of the 1977 NCAA Tournament champion Marquette Warriors and the site of that year's NBA All-Star Game and, in 1978, getting the famously distinctive, boldly colorful floor design by world-renowned artist Robert Indiana.
The MECCA court, known as "The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous" and considered the largest pop art painting in the world, had a tumultuous afterlife, following the Bucks' departure to the venue down the street in 1988. In the fall of 2013, the Bucks installed a new floor in the Bradley Center as a tribute to Indiana's original, which was salvaged, sold in 2013 and is now again for sale.
Will the iconic floor make a return, as well?
When asked on Saturday, Feigin smiled and hinted, "I would say there's a good expectation that we'll do something special with the court."
According to the Bucks, demand for the "Return to the MECCA" is expected to be very high and the best way to guarantee tickets to the game is through the purchase of a Bucks season ticket plan. In conjunction with the announcement, the Bucks also launched the 50th Anniversary Superpass, a digital ticket pass guaranteeing access to all 2017-18 regular-season home games, including the "Return to the MECCA" game, for $500. More information is available here.
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