MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks are focused squarely on the future, but Thursday night they’ll revisit their past as they play host to the Boston Celtics at their legendary former home, the Milwaukee Arena — best known as the MECCA.
The one-night-only gig is part of the franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration and will feature throwback jerseys.
Some of the greatest names in Bucks history built their legends at the Arena. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the first, leading Milwaukee to its first — and, to this date, only — world championship in 1971.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is challenging Abdul-Jabbar’s place in franchise history this season. He already surpassed Abdul-Jabbar’s record for points through four games by scoring 147 — good for a league-best average of 36.5 per game — and is looking to become the first Milwaukee player to earn league Most Valuable Player honors since Abdul-Jabbar won for a third time in four years in 1973-74.
“That’s one of my goals,” Antetokounmpo said. “I want to be one of the best players in the league. I want to lead. I want my team to make the playoffs every year that I’m here from now on. And I know by doing that good things will come. And, to be MVP, you’ve got to help your team win.”
He’s looking forward to a night in the Bucks’ famous former home, playing on a replica of the Robert Indiana-designed court that made the building famous during the Bucks’ heyday.
“Being on this floor that has a lot of history — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, a lot of players played on this floor — I’m excited for (the) game,” Antetokounmpo said. “It takes a little bit of time to get used to (the court) because it’s kind of bright. That’s why we practiced today here so we can get used to it, but I love it.”
The Bucks should get a boost from the return of point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who sat out Milwaukee’s last game with a sprained left ankle but returned to practice Wednesday without limitations.
“He practiced (Wednesday) and so we’ll see how he feels,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “Hopefully he feels good and is ready to go (Thursday).”
The Celtics, meanwhile, have started to adjust to life after losing Gordon Hayward for the season five minutes into a season-opening loss at Cleveland. They were still out of sorts two days later when they hosted — and fell — to the Bucks in their home opener, but the Celtics have turned things around since then, beating the 76ers in Philadelphia then routing the Knicks on Tuesday night in Boston to even their record at 2-2.
Kyrie Irving has led the way, averaging 20 points and six assists per game, while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have emerged as key components in the Celtics’ game plan.
The duo combined for 45 points in the victory over New York this week, becoming the first Celtics tandem age 21 or younger to score at least 20 points in the same game.
“They are young guys but, to us, with the situation we’re in, they’re guys,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Like, we need them to be guys.”
The duo has drawn attention on both ends of the court, as well as the respect of their teammates — especially Irving.
“It’s hard to put a cap on some of the talent that those guys have,” Irving said. “I didn’t really have too many expectations. I just wanted them to just go out and prove to themselves that they can go out and make an impact on this team and gain experience, beyond their years.
“Obviously (Hayward) going down, the expectations for our team as a collective were really high, but I think, individually, (Tatum and Brown) had their own expectations, which I can appreciate. They’re going to be their own worst critics, but I’m their biggest fan over here.”
The MECCA was home to five postseason series between the Bucks and Celtics. Boston won four, starting with the 1974 NBA Finals, which ended with Boston winning a Game 7 there.
The Bucks swept the 1983 Eastern Conference semifinals from Boston but fell in the conference finals in each of the next three seasons, including a memorable seven-game series in 1987.