MILWAUKEE — In an offseason full of change, the Milwaukee Bucks are even going to play on a new-look floor, one inspired by a blast from their past.
The Bucks unveiled their new playing surface Tuesday night in a packed event at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Inspired by the old court at the MECCA Arena designed by pop artist Robert Indiana, the new BMO Harris Bradley Center floor will be highlighted by a giant “M” on both sides of the floor.
“It’s clean, clear and has the M’s that were a part of the Robert Indiana court,” Bucks executive Vice President of business operations John Steinmiller said. “It was certainly an inspirational design by our team.
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“This will serve as the Bucks’ stage at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It’s a great item for branding Milwaukee. When our game is on television you will know it is Milwaukee, just like when the original Robert Indiana court was there.”
The logo featured at center court is new as well, as the deer head will become a secondary mark for the Bucks. A rendition of the 1971 Walter Brown NBA Championship trophy will be on the mid-court apron of the floor, while the team has a unique idea for the very southwest panel. The Bucks will engrave the names of all season ticket holders inside the center stripe for the team’s home opener on Nov. 2.
In order to showcase local art, the Bucks and MECCA will hold a contest for local artists to submit a canvas. The winning piece will take the place of the MECCA logo on the southwest panel for an entire season and will be auctioned off after the year.
“We want to continue to encourage young people to do art,” Steinmiller said. “This is a time when we know music funding and art funding is very scarce in our public schools and our private schools. Hopefully we can inspire young artists to know there’s always a place to put art.”
An avid artist himself, Bucks center Larry Sanders was on hand Tuesday night to help unveil the rendering of the floor with help from teammate John Henson. Sanders, who has a passion for art and film, approved of the new design and the inclusion of local art.
While it’s hard for players to appreciate the look of a court while playing on it, Sanders believes there is a part of the floor that could help him.
“I really like the light brown and the dark brown because that’s something I’m really going to be able to see and kind of establish where I am on the court subconsciously,” Sanders said. “Just knowing that I’m in the lighter portion or I’m in the darker portion. With that being our home arena, that’s something that will give us an advantage.”
Milwaukee worked closely with the NBA to make sure the new floor would meet league standards. Made of northern Wisconsin maple, the court was made by Action Floor Systems of Mercer, Wis and assembled and painted right at the Bradley Center.
“There are so many elements that go into each team’s identity including the logos, uniforms and court,” NBA Vice President of apparel, sporting goods and basketball partnerships Christopher Arena said. “The new design of the Bucks court has enabled the Bucks to add a visually powerful component to their identity for fans watching in person and on broadcast.”
First used at the MECCA Arena in 1977, Indiana’s original court was played on by the Bucks and Marquette University until 1987 when the teams moved to the Bradley Center. The floor was put up for auction in 2010 and was purchased by Gregory Koller, the owner of the ProStar flooring company based out of Milwaukee.
Gregory’s son Ben inherited the floor when his father passed away and formed a group called Our Mecca. The purpose of the group is to transition the floor into a public art display, possibly worked into a new basketball arena in Milwaukee. Our Mecca recently placed the floor on display for fans in the old arena, now called the U.S. Cellular Arena.
The Bucks then realized they could do something similar at the Bradley Center and began brainstorming ideas. Koller was asked by the Bucks to get Indiana’s blessing, something that wasn’t easy to do because the artist is currently living on an island off the coast of Maine searching for inspiration for future work.
Koller, who has a friendship with Indiana, ventured to Indiana’s house and got the approval the Bucks were looking for.
“The design of that floor was something special because it was colorful,” Eddie Doucette, the original and Hall of Fame former voice of the Bucks said. “Then we had the opportunity to develop a colorful team. A team that carried the name ‘Milwaukee’ across their jerseys around the country. That team was allowed to grow and it did.
“When I think about the floor that we played on — I used to love to come into the arena. I used to call it ‘the old barn.’ I used encourage people by saying ‘We are going to shake the rust from the rafters of the old barn so the floor would illuminate.'”
Sanders has only seen photos of the old floor, but he appreciates the artistic qualities associated with the basketball court.
“If I was the opposing team and I was going to that floor I would have thought ‘Oh, man it’s going to be a long night,'” Sanders said. “It looks like whoever is playing on that floor night in and night out is ready to work. I think that’s what they want to do this time. Have all the flash and glamour to it, but also show we’re ready to work.”
Not many NBA franchises would have had an event like the one the Bucks held Tuesday night, let alone hosting it at an art museum. The team is committed to including the arts in how it does business. For that, Sanders is thankful.
“I think it is awesome,” Sanders said. “Milwaukee itself is very artsy. For Milwaukee to adopt me, draft me and give me the opportunity to be here longer and then also provide something in the community to use my creative outlooks is just awesome. It’s a match made in heaven.
“(The arts) is one of the things I love the most about Milwaukee. I try to tap into the art community as much as I can because it is so big, so large and has so many things to do. I’m excited about the year on and off the court.”