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Ball Don't Lie

Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver sounds the alarm: ‘We need a new arena in Milwaukee’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Michael Jordan dunks over Buck center Jack Sikma at the Bradley Center in 1989 (Getty Images)

He’s months away from taking over as NBA commissioner, and we’re years away from the next time the NBA locks its players out in an attempt to save their owners from themselves, but NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver is already throwing off the scent. In remarks made to corporate sponsors of the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, Silver called the team’s 25-year old BMO Harris Bradley Center too small, lacking in perks, and years behind in featuring the modern three-tiered NBA seating configuration.

He also probably doesn’t like the name, or that guy busking with his saxophone just outside the southeast entrance. From The Business Journal:

“One obvious issue we all have to deal with is we need a new arena in Milwaukee.”

[…]

Silver said he “just got a tour” of Milwaukee’s NBA arena and concluded it is too small and still falls short on amenities.

“At the end of the day compared to other modern arenas in the league, this arena is a few hundred thousand square feet too small,” Silver said. “It doesn’t have the sort of back-of-house space you need, doesn’t have the kinds of amenities we need.

“It doesn’t have the right sort of upper bowl/lower bowl (seating) configuration for the teams frankly that Milwaukee wants to compete against,” he said.

The Bucks’ lease with the former Bradley Center doesn’t expire until 2017, but that sort of permanence doesn’t mean things won’t be tricky as longtime owner Senator Herb Kohl attempts to find the sort of financing to build an arena that the NBA sees as suitable to compete with other teams.

For one, as pointed out by Jason Patt at SB Nation, Bradley Center was technically a gift to the city of Milwaukee from the late philanthropist Jane Bradley Pettit, and the Bucks’ invitation to play in the $90 million donation didn’t really do a whole lot to keep the building or team rolling in the dough, as the city, team and Center didn’t have an arrangement in place typical of NBA teams. If the Bucks require upgrades in amenities to stay competitive with other teams, they have to go to the arena’s payroll policymakers with their figurative hat in hand.

Secondly, the team itself is in pretty poor standing with both its most ardent online communities, and NBA observers in general, due to their insistence on shooting for a mediocre record, instead of rebuilding and attempting to play for bigger things. Bucks general manager John Hammond recently gave what to me was a borderline shocking interview to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, in which he detailed how the Bucks have to overspend on free agents (like recent acquisition O.J. Mayo) because the city of Milwaukee isn’t enough to keep boffo free agents in town.

That sort of white flag mentality would appear to make sense, and excuse Hammond’s breathless pursuit of 41 wins every season, were it not for the fact that major impending free agents like Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson signed contract extensions with the Bucks, Sam Cassell signed on to stay in Milwaukee as an unrestricted free agent, and Vin Baker once signed a 10-year deal to remain in Milwaukee. Stephen Marbury, King of the Nighttime World, shed tears of joy in a Milwaukee Bucks cap after being drafted by the franchise. If the potential for a great team is in place, big time free agents will gladly play for the Bucks.

Lastly, there’s the tricky financing situation that Kohl and Silver face.

Milwaukee has already helped pay for one stadium, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park. Another city and/or county-funded “gift” sent to the Milwaukee Bucks some three decades after their last gift won’t and probably shouldn’t sit well with denizens of Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs. Silver talked up a new stadium and presence of an NBA team as giving credibility to working with a “major league image,” but as Pro Hoops History’s Curtis Harris reveals, local residents could probably not care less about owning a “major league image,” what with the city’s educational infrastructure in dire need of funds, and with most of the Bradley Center’s events being used as play dates for visiting suburbanites.

Silver contends that no NBA team is up for sale, which by extension would rule out Kohl or any other owner passing off their franchise on an ownership group that would quickly move to take the team to Seattle, so that option is off the table for now. And Sen. Kohl, who has resisted overtures for his team in the past, appears to want to stick things out in Milwaukee.

He’s got a nasty battle for a new building ahead of him, though. One that, frankly, I’m not entirely sure he should come out on the winning end of. At least if his “winning end” entails local residents serving up cash for an arena that really does precious little for them civically, and financially.

Save for that whole “major league image”-thing, I suppose.

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