Janesville45.4°

New arena needs help from Bucks

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Michael Hun, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
May 7, 2012
— Let’s say a new multipurpose arena could attract recording artists who sometimes skip Milwaukee because the Bradley Center isn’t competitive for their services.

Madonna, Steven Tyler, Lady Gaga, Chris Martin, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and even the geriatric Mick and Keith would fill the building because, for good or ill, they’re superstars.


No matter what you think of pop music—”The Lion King” and the Berlin Philharmonic would sell tickets, too—a sold-out downtown entertainment center is good for a community’s bottom line and image.


But what about the proposed building’s primary tenant?


Exactly which Milwaukee Buck is going to encourage customers to spin those shiny new turnstiles?


“We have no superstars,” owner Herb Kohl said.


As long as the arena-financing package is fair and heavily tipped toward Kohl and private investors, I’m onboard with anything that helps advance this city.


But only if the Bucks help themselves.


Only regressive thinkers and those who have not seen another NBA arena refuse to acknowledge why the Bucks need a new building to stay viable in this market. That is not elitist hype. It is merely a statement of fact on the cost of doing business in the NBA. Whether you want NBA representation for your city is a fair argument. That NBA play won’t continue much longer in the Bradley Center is not debatable.


Kohl wants to stay in the game to the point that he is willing, against the grain of pretty much every owner in America, to put up a lot of his own money to help pay for a new arena. It is a gesture of civic goodwill that needs to be recognized by those who appreciate quality-of-life enhancers.


Now is the time to start thinking about how to move dirt on, ideally, that big vacant Park East lot just north of the Bradley Center.


Now is also the time for the senator to start doing something about the state of his team.


It is one thing to want Milwaukee to continue its association with the other 29 cites that represent the greatest basketball on the planet. It is a matter of prestige for a town that occasionally wallows in an unwarranted inferiority complex.


It is another to demand that the Bucks be worthy of a world-class arena.


When the movers and shakers in this city meet to plan a new arena, the elephant in the conference room is always the Bucks’ record. It would be so much easier to get the project rolling if the team would win, they truthfully tell each other.


Kohl is right. He has no superstars who can help win division titles and fill buildings. He hasn’t had one since he let George Karl talk him into trading future Hall of Famer Ray Allen nine long years ago.


The Bucks have a 0.7 percent chance at drafting consensus No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, the center who could help the franchise get closer to Oklahoma City than just out of the lottery. They have a zero percent chance of one day signing Dwight Howard, the best center in the game.


But that doesn’t mean they can’t do other things to bridge this team toward competitiveness while the business leaders are trying to bridge the Bradley Center to a new building five or six years from now. Both are equally important to win the hearts and minds of customers.


I agree with Kohl and general manager John Hammond that the Bucks are fairly close to being good. Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, a re-signed Ersan Ilyasova, a solid pick at No. 12, a sizable free agent with their salary cap room and a serviceable bench should put them in position to maybe be a No. 6 seed or better next season.


They can’t keep trying to sell the same revolving door —John Salmons one year, Corey Maggette the next and Stephen Jackson the next. There must be consistency and substance to the roster. If they’re going to go get a big man, he’s got to fit in with the core group. Another high-salaried NBA transient is just going to blow up in their faces again and set back the arena plan.


Absent a superstar beyond the reach of current market conditions, consistency has a chance of winning. Winning fills seats in Milwaukee. Filled seats give a new arena a better chance. A new arena gives the Bucks at least a shot at a superstar.


The Bucks not only have a responsibility for their future, they are accountable for it.



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