You did this, Milwaukee.
He didn’t know that when his face, voice and highlights appeared in the championship video on ring night on Oct. 19 that Fiserv Forum rocked. But he’s heard you, felt you – and he’s looking forward to his return Saturday night to soak it all in once again.
“Hey, listen – you know what surprised me the most is how many fans are reaching out on e-mail, DM, everything, comments, talking about coming to the game,” Tucker said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel. “It’s really ... that part was the part that made me think back and really think about it even before I talked to you. Because you can’t, like, you can’t make that up. Guys go play for teams and win and people don’t care. People could care less. And I know that for a fact.
“For the love I still get, even though I’m on an opposite team who their guys will battle this year and to still get that love, that’s what I’m saying about my experience in Milwaukee that nobody will ever understand: As short as it was, it couldn’t have been any bigger.”
Tucker returns for the first time since helping the Bucks win their first title in five decades, but for Bucks fans – and for a part of Tucker – he has never left.
It briefly left him searching for the right words as he tried to process what the city and its fans have meant to him.
“I’ll always love Milwaukee,” he said. “I’ll love the people of Milwaukee forever. They embraced me so much from day one when I first got there to the day I left; they were always there, they always had my back. That’s not something you get right away. You don’t normally get the trust and the love of the city so fast. It was an amazing experience and journey.”
It truly surprised Tucker because he was in the city for 125 days, from when his acquisition was made official March 19 through the champagne-soaked party in the Deer District on July 22.
“For people to see how good of a fan base it is up there, I had no idea,” he said as he approached his 119th day as a member of the Miami Heat. “Going there for years playing, I had no idea it would be that crazy.
"But just to see people come out every single day. Literally I mean couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t buy a beer. You couldn’t buy a dinner. People were just always taking care of you and love you. Going to my favorite place, Steny’s to get chicken wings, like that just turned into a whole deal because then people found out that was my spot so they would be there. There was people everywhere. But the love, the love that resonated and shined through more than anything.”
Of course, the city was starved for a title. Even the most casual of basketball fans couldn’t help but get swept up in the fervor the team built through its title run. He knows that is the most important part of all this – the ring is the thing.
But make no mistake, Tucker is a local legend.
From the moment he donned a yellow ski mask and put the top down on his Ferrari in the April snow, the love affair between him and the city bloomed. The “we dogs” declarations, the nose-to-nose moment with Kevin Durant and the epic champagne chug that caused an Instagram movement only added to the bouquet.
And then let’s not forget the after-party that sprouted a whole garden of roses between player and city.
“That walk out of the arena and walking and stopping in almost every bar on Water Street,” he began, laughing at the memory, “and buying rounds for everybody. That, to me, like I felt like I had to do that. I knew nobody else on my team would do that. That was like my personality and how I felt towards them.
“And honestly, knowing a lot of the bar owners and people down there, those were, are all my people. Those are my people. Like, I knew those people. There was people I didn’t know but I knew the core people that were there every day that worked there, the waitresses, I knew everybody.
"So for me it was like going to see people and the people I knew, appreciated the most and that I had to hear it from all year while I was there about winning and what we had to do. It was just showing love back to how I was being shown the whole time.”
What he finds interesting, and tough to wrap his head around, though, is that he’s coming back to get his ring with another team. And not just any other team, but one that has the very real goal and expectation to knock off the defending champions – the very team he helped make so.
It’s why he’s still not quite sure what to expect Saturday night.
“When you have an impact on a team and when you win it and leave and you’re on another team, it’s the weirdest, almost hardest, most awkward thing ever because you completely try to stop talking about it, you know?” he said. “I’m a professional, on another team, I’m on a team that we beat last year in the first round so it’s like you go from the love to now you’re the opposition.
“I’m going to try my hardest. You’re making it hard because doing this right now is making me think about it. I’m trying to not think about it at all. It’s one of those things that’s just gotta happen and I’m going to take it in in that moment. I don’t know how I’ll react. I don’t know how because I have no idea.
"It seems almost unfair for me to – a month, two months in the season – have to go back to Milwaukee and celebrate while Milwaukee being my No. 1 opponent and one of the teams that we need to beat on my team, my current team. It’s bittersweet. There’s no other way to get around that.
"It is what it is. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m just going to have to live it.”
He’s seen some photos of the ring. He’s seen some videos. For a guy who does anything he can for the team to win, it will be a purely individual moment. A joyful closure tinged with an awkward finality. Because then, those 125 days, are over-over. He will have to hand off the jewelry and truly move beyond that championship run.
What he is sure about, however, is how all of you impacted him in those few short months.
“No other players ever know Milwaukee,” he said. “I feel like that, yes. I feel like that. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know, but that’s how I feel. I feel like if you weren’t there this year and you didn’t experience the 60, 70,000 people in Deer District and you didn’t feel the streets right after we won and the energy the city had, every single person … you had to be there. You couldn’t watch it on TV. You couldn’t just ... you had to be there to experience it. It’s one of those things. Honestly, it really was, it was just one of those things.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: P.J. Tucker returns to Milwaukee to face Bucks, collect NBA title ring