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NBA Theme Day: What's your most memorable Milwaukee Bucks game?

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Jonathan Daniel/ALLSPORT.

SB Nation's latest theme day will have you thinking happy thoughts. The theme: What was the most memorable game you attended as a fan? Tell us your stories in the comments or (better yet) write a Fanpost about it.

I moved to Wisconsin in the fall of 1989 when I was eight years old, and in 1992 something happened that would ultimately change my life: My dad bought us Bucks season tickets.

The Bucks weren't any good back then--the Del Harris Bucks had officially been buried, and first round picks Todd Day and Lee Friggin' Mayberry were the guys I was most excited about that first season. But while I knew the Bucks were probably at least a couple years from respectability, I also had no idea that I was starting a love affair with a team that would only rarely love me back over the following two decades.

Not that there wasn't hope. Vin Baker looked promising even as a rookie, and the arrival of Glenn Robinson in 1994 should have given the Bucks the superstar that would vault them back into relevance (well, apparently not). But then came Ray Allen, and then the arrival of Sam Cassell, and finally by my senior of high school--the 98/99 lockout year--I experienced something I had never seen before in six seasons of fandom. A playoff season in Milwaukee.

Alas, George Karl's Bucks couldn't make it past the first round that year or the following season. But it was a start. From my dorm room in Boston I would follow every game online, and for the first month or so of the 00/01 season things looked...well, not so great. But an 8-11 record in December morphed into 26-15 less than two months later, and from there the wins kept coming. The Big Three started to become just that, and by the end of the season the Bucks had won 52 games--the only time in the last 27 seasons they've won more than 50 games--and secured the second seed in the East. I watched parts of the first two rounds on TV while I was finishing exams--including an incredible game seven vs. the Hornets--and by the end of May something entirely unexpected had happened. I was done with my sophomore year, back in Wisconsin for the summer, and the Bucks were still playing. All of which led to my most memorable game as a fan:

May 26, 2001: Bucks 80, Sixers 74 (Eastern Conference Finals Game 3)

The Bucks had split the first two games of the Eastern Finals in Philly, seizing home court in game two and setting up a Saturday matinee in Milwaukee for game three. I hadn't seen the team play since I had been home for Christmas, though even then there seemed to be something different. The team had a different type of confidence, an energy that seemed to imbue the crowds with a different type of electricity. All of a sudden, we expected to win every night. Cassell, Robinson and Allen were lethal. Ervin Johnson and Scott Williams were the glue. Tim Thomas (!) had all the potential in the world. And there were the rituals: the standing ovations when Karl came out of the tunnel before each game, the deafening, instinctive roar of the crowd every time the "Bark Board" (an animated noise meter paying homage to Robinson) flashed on the big screen, and of course the "Light it up!" music video before games.

And thirteen years later, my most memorable game ironically now seems like something of a blur. Allen Iverson didn't even play due to a sore hip, a fact that should have made it a walkover game for the good guys. But the Bucks got nothing from their supporting cast--Cassell, Robinson and Allen combined for 62 of the Bucks' 80 points--and couldn't put the plucky Sixers away despite a raucous crowd intent on carrying the Bucks to a 2-1 series lead. My memories of the game details are scant at this point, but I remember feeling strangely confident despite a nervous ending that was in doubt until the final minute. We were too excited to be there, and the crowd was too energized to stand for anything less than a win. Leaving the BC with my dad, we were suddenly in an unfamiliar place: The warm air and sunlight of an almost-summer evening greeted us as the doors to 4th street opened, and the possibility of THE NBA FINALS suddenly was a realistic topic of conversation. Imagine that?

Looking back, I'm not sure if I expected it all to last. And it didn't, not by a long shot. A quick start the following season unraveled into a disastrous finish, and The Big Three era was over in a flash. Fast forward through a decade of false starts and disappointment, and I appreciate that season, that magical playoff run, and that game all the more. And while that team is gone and another 50-win season seems years away, all of it reminds me of what pro basketball in Milwaukee can be. In the spring of 2001, the Brewers stunk, the Packers missed the playoffs, and Milwaukee was--at least for a few months--a basketball town again. Every team pays lips service to their fans being the best in the world, but for a few months I actually believed it. A few years from now? Hopefully we'll be able to believe again.