After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted across the city June 1, the Deer District reopened along with the rest of Milwaukee.
Deer District is located just outside the Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Basketball, and is a premiere plaza for sports and entertainment in Milwaukee. Right outside the forum itself, there are a variety of restaurants and bars, such as the Mecca, the Beer Garden and Punch Bowl Social.
One of the biggest events since its reopening has been the Milwaukee Bucks playoff games. The playoffs and watch parties began May 22, with the the Bucks playing its first round against the Miami Heat, all the way to game six of the NBA Finals against the Suns July 20.
A full capacity crowd of 65,000 people came out to the district for game six of the NBA Finals to watch the Bucks defeat the Phoenix Suns 105-98 and win the championship title.
Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered a historic stat line to end the 50 year title drought on their home court. The Greek Freak posted a 50 point, 14-rebound and five-block performance. It was the first time a player had scored 50 points in a closeout finals game, since Bob Pettit in 1958.
Throughout the entire playoff run, many fans, including Marquette women’s basketball forward Chloe Marotta, enjoyed the district’s lively ambience while watching the games.
“The atmosphere, I think Milwaukee deserves to have this time,” Marotta says. “It’s been 50 years since the last time (the Bucks) won a finals and I think that we’re really eager to win the finals and all just come together after a hard year when this could never happen.”
Marotta says the watch parties were a great way for the city to come together, especially after being apart from each other for so long due to the pandemic.
“People are definitely annoyed about having to stay in their houses for that long, and so I think with the chance to come together and be there, I don’t think anyone wants to miss it,” Marotta says. “I think that people are just dying to just go outside and have a good time.”
Nathan Marzion, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, says it meant everything for fans to come together and support their teams again.
“It’s just crazy because (basketball) brings so many people together,” Marzion says. “We couldn’t do this before in 2020 when (the Bucks) lost in the 2nd round … There were no fans, they were in the bubble, there was none of this, and having this type of energy and this type of support and electricity in the city, just surrounding this team, it gives everyone something to look forward to.”
Women’s soccer defender Bonnie Lacey says the district has not only been a great way for her and her teammates bond, but for rest of Milwaukee to come together as well.
“(My team) went down as much as we could,” Lacey says. “It’s really cool because not only does everyone from the city come out, but people from Wisconsin in general come out.”
Lacey says some of her teammates who aren’t originally from Milwaukee became Bucks fans this summer, after experiencing some of the games in-person. She says she has also run into people from her high school or club soccer team in the district.
“It’s honestly an amazing way for the community to come together and rally around something,” Lacey says.
Volleyball head coach Ryan Theis says he could also feel the excitement from afar while on recruiting trips across the country.
“It (has) become such a great sports city and just gets lively. You can’t walk around downtown without hearing somebody talk about the Bucks,” Theis says. “More and more people flocked downtown and they’ll flock there during the day if there’s a 7:30 game just to kind of be in the area and get to the Deer District.”
Some fans, including Marzion, have also noticed the impact of having the Deer District back at full capacity.
“From what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen, (the athletes) have been doing fantastic from this stuff,” Marzion says. “Some of these other places have to be just thriving off this stuff just because so many people are going down there, and every single game that place (the Deer District) is filled with thousands of people and I think it’s helped a ton of these businesses tremendously.”
Marzion says the Bucks winning the championship title was something he had dreamed of for a long time.
“I’ve been such a diehard fan of this team and so many other people have as well and following this team, even when there was no reason to,” Marzion says. “Sticking with them no matter what, and for them to (win), means so much to so many people and something so many have had a dream of.”
This story was written by Jackson Gross. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JacksonGrossMU.