Melissa: All right, everybody. This is The Takeaway and I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega. The Bucks NBA Finals have put the City of Milwaukee in the spotlight, where the Bucks play the Phoenix Suns tonight in game six of the finals. For the first time in 50 years, the Bucks have a chance at the championship and if they win tonight, the Bucks will clinch the victory in their home city. This means a lot to a lot of Milwaukeeans who are coming together to celebrate this, especially some Milwaukee Public School students who had their own basketball season canceled due to COVID-19.
We got a call from Jason Rosenbaum, a colleague over at St. Louis Public Radio who had this to say.
Jason: I've been a Bucks fan for nearly 30 years. Even though I'm from the Chicago suburbs originally, I fell in love with the team after my dad took me to a game in the 1990s when most of the Bulls games were sold out. They've either been terrible, or mediocre, or are heartbreakingly disappointing. This year when they made it to the finals, I didn't really think twice about buying two tickets to the game and it was a real full-circle moment when my dad and I got to watch them win what is now their first of three victories in the series.
If they win on Tuesday, it would be by far the biggest sports moment of my life.
Melissa: Speaking of full circle, Branden Joseph, the Dean of Students and Head Varsity Boys Basketball Coach at Carmen Northwest High School in Milwaukee, recognized a need in his community. He brought the community together to create a basketball league of their own called City On The Floor. He's here to talk with us right now about basketball, the Bucks, and what this NBA final means for Milwaukee. Welcome to the show, Branden.
Branden: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.
Melissa: This is an exciting moment, I got to say, as somebody who was living in New Orleans, when we won the Super Bowl right after Hurricane Katrina, there is something special about the ways that the championship can make you feel like, "All right, we're going to make it through."
Branden: Most definitely and I think with it actually does in entirety. It brings a city and state together, all walks of life, enjoying and cheering for one common goal. I just think it's marvelous.
Melissa: Speaking of coming together for a common goal, Milwaukee Public Schools didn't have a basketball season this year. How did you make a decision to create your own season?
Branden: In all actuality, I was receiving phone calls from a lot of players, parents, they were concerned. The biggest concern was that other counties were playing. We really had no answer at the time. It was a lot of sleepless nights where it's like, man, something has to happen for these kids, not only just to give them sports, but we all know during the most traumatic time of the history of our world, they need an outlet during that time. I got along with three other individuals and we pretty much devised the plan so they can have a safe outlet through basketball.
Did it happen here? No, it was actually 45 miles away because gyms were closed here. We devised a plan to be able to provide these opportunities for student-athletes at that time.
Melissa: In a way that feels real Milwaukee to me, just figuring out a way to make it happen, even if you don't have all the resources you need.
Branden: Most definitely, I think Milwaukee is a good townhome, get it out the mud type of city. You're absolutely right when adversity hits, we utilize adversity to build character, and to devise strategies so we can assist our families and assist our community.
Melissa: Tell me a little bit more about the program, what were the age groups and how were you guys getting 45 minutes away? Were you carpooling? How did this all work?
Branden: We just put everything you just said, just pretty much together. We had a transportation system for that where they actually, the game days, we utilized a template where through email. If you need a ride, I will tell you, the two stops the shuttle will be at, and then you can go and utilize that as arrive 45 minutes away. In regards to the age group, it was all high school because, predominantly, even though our middle school population was affected as well. Our high school population was at arm's reach from us, so it was all high school groups.
A lot of them got with their friends and they said, "Hey, let's play in this league. We're not doing nothing for X time to X time at the virtual school. Let's utilize this league as an outlet and be able to socialize and fellowship together and a common goal of trying to win it."
Melissa: I've been listening to some of the national sports talking heads on ESPN's first take recently. Somebody took a shot at Milwaukee by calling it "a terrible city," compared to other cities that the finals have been hosted in. Do you want to say something about Milwaukee?
Branden: Being born and raised here, initially, you listen to those types of comments and it immediately gets to you. After processing it now, after seeing it being observed in the national spotlight, I'm hoping those certain individuals eat those words because, at the end of the day, Milwaukee is traditionally just a homegrown city where especially when adversity hits or comments like that try to serve as a stigma for what we do down here. It motivates us to come together and be able to be united and show the world that we're no different to anybody else. We just want to root for our hometown team and live life like everyone else.
Melissa: Now, Milwaukee has had challenges that many other American cities have faced as well, challenges around race, around housing segregation, policing, violence, all of those issues. Yet, it feels like the Bucks in the finals has at least brought the city together in some ways. We've been talking about Black joy a lot this summer. Have you been seeing some Black joy in Milwaukee?
Branden: Most definitely. I think the Bucks have been that, I call it a positive distraction to some of the things that's been going on. It's just been a positive distraction. They at least give us-- If they're playing two times a week, they give us those six hours out of the week, where you could come together all walks of life, and enjoy a spirit of just want to actually root for your hometown team. For six hours out the week, you get the time to enjoy some quality basketball.
Melissa: What of your players, your teenagers been telling you about how they're feeling about the Bucks in the finals?
Branden: If I'm a teenager around this time, the level of excitement that I have will be at an all-time high, in terms of no one-- The majority of teenagers I know I work with and the challenges and the deficiencies that they don't have any choice. They're basically sometimes that they're born into, it would give me a sense of hope.
Like I said, not only just for being a basketball player, but if you want to be a carpenter, if you want to be a lawyer, if you want to be a doctor, it shows that if you come together, you play your role, you work hard, you can make the championship, not only probably, like I'm saying in the basketball world, but your form of life. Bucks, right now, are serving as ambassadors, they're showing that we weren't always this good but guess what we did? We worked our butts off to be this good.
If I'm a teenager at this time, the sky's the limit. I'm ready to go to college. I'm ready to go to my training school. I'm ready to conquer the world because the Bucks did it.
Melissa: Are you watching tonight and how are you going to celebrate if there's a win?
Branden: Am I watching tonight?
Melissa: [laughs] I know, it's a ridiculous question. I get it.
Branden: Front row, it's going to be some of our better friends. We're devising the plan as we speak and we're going to embrace the community and our friendships and just be united. I think we deserve it.
Melissa: Branden Joseph is the Dean of Students and Head Varsity Boys Basketball Coach at Carmen Northwest High School in Milwaukee. He's also an organizer for City On The Floor and he's got a big plan for tonight. Thanks for being here, Branden.
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