The 2021 NBA Finals Games will be the first ones in a decade without a team that features either former champs Lebron James or Steph Curry. In fact, of the four squads remaining in this season’s playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks are the only team to have ever won a chip, and that was forty years ago. But if it is up to ESPN’s First Take crew, no one should care if it takes another forty more years until Milwaukee is ever brought up again.
On Wednesday’s airing of the popular sports show, the hosts lamented how coverage of previous years’ Finals contenders took them to glitzy L.A. or sunny Miami. “Do you really want to be in Milwaukee?” asked guest Damien Woody. “Is that where you want to be?” Stephen A. Smith was clear about his distaste for the city with a strong “Hell no! Hell no!” Molly Qerim Rose added that this might be the first time the crew avoids Finals coverage since this year’s contenders all play in “terrible cities” although Max Kellerman immediately tried to soften the blow.
Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin was not too pleased with the TV personalities’ review and invited them to come see him in Cream City instead. “Hey, First Take hosts, When’s the last time you were in Milwaukee? Must be a while,” read Feigin’s public letter to Smith, Kellerman, and Rose. “I would love to personally give you a tour.” He then proceeded to sell them on the city’s scenic Lake Michigan, booming population, and Midwestern charm.
Milwaukeeans themselves, however, show no signs of extending that Midwestern charm to First Take. Bucks fan Jake Mahkorn set up a Change.org petition to block the show’s hosts from any Finals games in Milwaukee. “You may not be a fan of the Bucks. Hell, you may not even be a fan of the NBA,” it reads. “But if you’re a fan of America. If you’re a fan of small market sports teams. A fan of parity, the NBA. Or maybe you just think enough is enough with this dude. This petition is for you.” (Paging Kwame Brown.)
Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey issued the following statement to the ESPN crew: “I have a message for the haters of the Milwaukee Bucks: Keep bringing the disrespect so the Bucks can keep turning it into jet fuel.”
By contrast, one of the hosts of TNT’s Inside the NBA would love visiting Cream City to cover the Finals. When the Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, Ernie Johnson waxed nostalgic about his hometown.
“I have to say, it is so good to be back here. It is so good to bump into friends. I get the distinct feeling that it’s appreciated that we’re talking Milwaukee up,” Johnson said on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee in 2019. “I make it a point to get to the set early before the show so I can hang with these people. So I can say, ‘Hey, thank you for watching us and supporting us.'”
But as of now, the First Take crew might get its wish after all. Even though the analytics-obsessed site FiveThirtyEight originally calculated the Bucks as having a 79% chance of advancing to the 2021 NBA Finals, their Game 1 loss to the Hawks dropped that number to 58%.
Stephen A., Max, and Molly might end up paying “Lemon Pepper Lou” a visit in ATL after all.