PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The cheers of “Bucks in 6! Bucks in 6!” echoed throughout The Ticket Bar & Grill in Platteville late Tuesday night after the Milwaukee Bucks bested the Phoenix Suns to win the NBA championship.
It was their first title in 50 years and, quite possibly, a new chapter in their following, local fans said.
“Not just in Wisconsin — I also think they will have more fans throughout the country,” said an enthusiastic Mike Olds at The Ticket after the game ended and the celebration started.
Throughout the series, bar staff noticed climbing turnout on game nights as the Bucks ticked off wins and advanced through the playoffs.
Initially, some lifelong loyalists, Olds included, rolled their eyes at the sudden appearance of a new fan base.
“When you ask is the Bucks phenomenon new, right now? Yeah,” he said. “Most of these — I hate to say it — but they’re fair-weather fans.”
Many on Tuesday said the Bucks, like other professional basketball teams, attract their greatest following in the urban centers where they are based.
“Access to those arenas and those events has a lot to do with it,” said Herb Cody, vice president of QueenB Radio and a former Milwaukee resident.
In rural Wisconsin, where the grandstands already are filled with “cheeseheads” known for their fealty to the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers, where do the Bucks stand?
Comparing the popularity of the Packers and Bucks in Platteville is fraught given the timing of professional sports seasons, several local residents said.
When the former team plays, school is in session, while summer is “a little more dead,” said Madeline Kelley, a University of Wisconsin-Platteville student and bartender at Brothers On 2nd in Platteville.
Platteville’s Historic 2nd Street, normally a raucous hangout for the college crowd, was noticeably placid Tuesday.
About three dozen people trickled into Brothers throughout the game’s second quarter. Between claps and shouts, several professed their allegiance to the Bucks.
“Even when they were terrible,” said Platteville resident Jessie Udelhofen, who joined members of his local dart league at the bar.
Brandon Gaston, manager of The Public House, noticed that as the Bucks’ popularity grows, the team’s fans also find themselves under a spotlight.
“The Bucks and the Suns aren’t like a huge glorified market team, so it’s been very cool to see those fan bases out and about,” Gaston said. “It’s not a Chicago, L.A., Boston or something like that.”
Cody believes even if the enthusiasm for the Bucks proves transient, drawing new and old fans together is nonetheless valuable.
“Everybody has a connection somehow,” he said. “If you have a team that’s winning and everyone is excited about it, that’s good for everything. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the team. It’s good for the community. It brings people together.”
Relative to any other Tuesday, the crowd at The Ticket was significantly larger, said owner Chris Richard, who spent the first half of the game filling flatbread and sandwich orders in the bar’s kitchen.
Forty to 60 customers mingled throughout the night.
“Ninety percent of the people in here tonight wouldn’t be in here if it weren’t for this game,” he said.
Platteville residents Brooke Riggs and her boyfriend, Ryan Myers, eat dinner at the bar frequently.
“We don’t really follow basketball, but just like anything else, when your local team is doing good, everybody pretty much pitches in,” said Myers.
At The Ticket, patrons alternately whooped and groaned during the nail-biting fourth quarter, as the Bucks maintained a narrow lead.
Jerry Joyce squatted on the ground and rested his chin on the bar as he eyed the television nervously.
The Bucks hit a shot.
“Go Bucks!” he shouted.
Riggs took a selfie with Joyce. About 90 seconds were left on the clock.
“Sorry, it’s getting exciting now,” Joyce said, sweat beading on his face.
Across the room, Olds started a round of chanting — “Fear the deer!” The bar’s patrons joined in, pumping their fists.
With 9.8 seconds left, the Bucks increased their lead to seven points — the margin that would hold.
“It’s been a long time coming for this, guys,” Joyce said.