MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jabari Parker just got to town, and he doesn’t want to leave.
It’s now up to legislators to determine just how much they want the young forward and the rest of the Bucks to stick around in Milwaukee.
Following a surprisingly successful season, the team is one step closer to getting a new home after political leaders last week announced a $500 million financing deal for a downtown arena. The next hurdle could be more momentous than making the playoffs: getting approval from the state Legislature and Milwaukee Common Council.
“It’s all progress. It’s our first step forward,” team President Peter Feigin said. “We’ve still got a long road.”
Parker’s job is to score points and rebound. He’s hoping to return from a knee injury that sidelined him for much of this past season.
He is also paying attention to what’s happening off the court.
“Yeah, it’s very important, because we want to stay around as much as possible,” Parker said. “We don’t want to leave. We want to stay in Milwaukee.”
So much has happened already since April 2014, when new owners bought the Bucks. It marked a fresh start for a franchise that had hit rock-bottom in the NBA.
The team drafted one-and-done sensation Parker out of Duke with the second overall pick in the draft in June 2014. He brought immediate star power. Jason Kidd was hired as coach soon afterward. He brought a name recognizable from his days as an All-Star point guard.
Relying on defense, the Bucks finished 41-41 — a remarkable improvement following a franchise-worst 15-win season in 2013-14. They made the playoffs, losing in six games in the first round to the Chicago Bulls.
“We’re turning things around, together. Most importantly we’re headed toward a new direction,” Parker said.
On Saturday, the Bucks drew an estimated 10,000 fans for an afternoon-long block party that was highlighted by the unveiling of their new uniforms at a park outside the team’s corporate offices. Fans wearing Bucks gear shot hoops with Parker and fellow franchise cornerstone Giannis Antetokounmpo; tried to dump Feigin into a dunk tank; and watched as giant posters of the team’s new duds were unfurled with fanfare on the side of a building.
It was just the kind of momentum that the team needed with the arena question looming.
“I’ve been here for years. This has to be one of the greatest times being in Milwaukee,” said retired forward Vin Baker, who was drafted by the Bucks in the first round in 1993.
The financing deal announced by Gov. Scott Walker, Republican legislative leaders and Milwaukee-area officials calls for the taxpayers’ share of costs to be capped at $250 million. The Bucks’ current and former owners have pledged $250 million, and the owners would be responsible to pay for any cost overruns.
Some conservatives don’t like the deal because they think taxpayers shouldn’t be in the business of financing sports projects. Community and business leaders gathered at the state capitol in Madison this week urging for quick approval.
The NBA could buy back the Bucks and move it without significant progress toward construction of a new arena by 2017. It would replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which opened in 1988.
Saturday’s turnout offered a sign of renewed enthusiasm with the club. The Bucks have made concerted efforts to maintain connections with popular players from their past, including Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.
The Bucks unveiled their new logos in April, including one mark that, for the first time, depicts an outline of the state of Wisconsin accented by a color called “Great Lakes blue.”
Asked on Saturday whether the Bucks needed to embark on a statewide campaign to help make their case, Feigin said it was more about education.
“We have to do a lot of education versus campaigning,” Feigin said. “We’ve got to be clear. We’ve got to tell the rationale of the direction we want to go and then today is a great example of where we’re going.”
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