For years, Milwaukee Bucks fans have been chanting “Bucks in 6” to anyone who would listen. How did an inside joke on NBA Twitter become the rallying cry for a new era of Milwaukee Bucks basketball?
On April 20, 2017, the Milwaukee Bucks took on the Toronto Raptors in game three of their first-round series in the NBA playoffs. I was lucky enough to be one of those in attendance.
To this day, it remains the best Bucks game I’ve ever been to and one of the most electric sporting events I’ve attended. The Bucks went on to win the game in a rout, 104-77. Honestly, it wasn’t even that close — the Bucks led by 27 at halftime.
Milwaukee took a 2-1 series lead but would lose the next three games in the series to fall to the Raptors. There’s one moment from that night that always stuck with me, though. During a timeout about halfway through the first quarter, with the Bucks already building a large lead, a chant broke out.
“BUCKS-IN-6! BUCKS-IN-6! BUCKS-IN-6!”
The chant percolated throughout the now-defunct BMO Harris Bradley Center until it seemed every one of the 20,000 fans was chanting in unison.
At the time, it made me beam with pride and happiness, and of course, I chanted along. To this day, it still makes me smile because, really, it makes no sense. Why would a home crowd chant for a team to actually lose more games in the series? But, at that moment, it was beautiful.
Every Bucks fan knows the “Bucks in 6” motto, but how did we get to the point where it was the unofficial slogan of a franchise? How did an inside joke among #NBATwitter became a rallying cry for an entire franchise and its fanbase?
If you’re a Bucks fan in any capacity, you know the story of how the phrase “Bucks in 6” got started. If you don’t, this piece from Jack McCutchin provides a great history of it. The short story: Milwaukee player Brandon Jennings predicted the lowly eighth-seeded Bucks would topple the heavy favorite Miami Heat in their playoff matchup.
Not only would they beat the Heat in Jennings’ mind, they’d do it in just six games. Thus, a meme was born.
It was a joke at the Bucks’ expense with the punchline, essentially, being “the Bucks suck and always will.” So, why did Bucks fans latch onto it so tightly and make it their own?
If you ask me, it’s because all Bucks fans could relate to what Brandon Jennings was saying in that interview. Did he really think the Bucks would win? No. But, he had hope. Irrational, unwarranted hope. It was really all they had.
In those days, when the Bucks were perpetually floundering in mediocrity, winning enough games to reach the playoffs, even though doing so kept them out of the draft lottery, handicapping them from ever securing a true franchise player that could bring them out of the basement of the league, there wasn’t much hope around.
In those days, when they were playing in one the league’s smallest TV markets in the antiquated Bradley Center and were in constant threat of relocation, the future looked bleak as ever.
How many more times could the Bucks limp into the playoffs, get embarrassed and run it back the next year with no real chance to compete? How many more years could the Bucks play before the problem of playing in the old and unkempt Bradley Center rear its ugly head? How long until Seattle tried to snatch our team?
These were questions Bucks fans thought of in those days. The answers didn’t look good.
But Jennings’ bold prediction was like a J.R. Smith fadeaway three-pointer, completely irrational and totally endearing. It was like he was telling the fans it was going to be alright in the end, because “Bucks in 6”.
It was essentially “Trust the Process” for Bucks fans, with somehow more irrational confidence because there was no process even in place.
But, soon after, the Bucks gained new owners, Giannis Antetokounmpo became a legitimate superstar and a new arena was on the way, ensuring the Bucks weren’t going anyway. The “Bucks in 6” mantra was seemingly validated.
As the Bucks’ franchise finally seemed to be on the uptick, Bucks fans adopted it as their own, almost like a greeting to one another, a code phrase to let each other know, “yes, I’ve been here since those dark days.” It was a nod to the past, while also a bright outlook on the future.
Now, it exists more as a callback to a bygone era. The Bucks still haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, and who knows if they’ll win one in 2019. But when they do, and it will happen (hopefully in my lifetime), expect to hear “Bucks in 6” chants once again fill the arena, this time in the Fiserv Forum.
Maybe I’m reading too much into what’s just a stupid and funny phrase that fans of the Bucks, and the wider NBA, have been throwing around for a couple years, but I think there’s always been an internal reason why Bucks fans have been saying it for so long, aside from the joke.
Bucks fans will likely never stop saying it, at least until the team win their first playoff series since 2001. When that does happen, expect the chants to once again fill the arena, now the brand-new Fiserv Forum, the beacon of the Bucks future, filled with chants from days gone by.