MILWAUKEE -- Thousands of people flowed through Fiserv Forum on Sunday, Aug. 26, as the Milwaukee Bucks' new home opened its doors to the public for the first time.
The team held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the plaza outside the arena before allowing people inside for the free event. Current star Giannis Antetokounmpo, former Bucks, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver were in attendance.
"Milwaukee, you now have an arena you can be proud of," said Marc Lasry, one of the team's four principal co-owners.
The $524 million arena opened two years and two months after its groundbreaking. Sunday's event caps a years-long process that ensures the Bucks stay in Milwaukee for decades.
Among the tallest visitors to the arena was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer and six-time NBA champion, including the 1971 title with the Bucks. The franchise has never had more excitement around it, he said.
"The Bradley Center was a fine place but it wasn’t distinctly better than everything else," Abdul-Jabbar said from a hallway in the bowels of the new arena. "This venue is awesome. There’s nothing that’s lacking."
Silver said in 2013 that the Bradley Center was too small, endorsing plans to build a new arena in Milwaukee instead of relocating the team to another city. On Sunday, he called the mix of public and private funding for the arena "remarkable."
"I have to say, government works in Milwaukee," said Silver.
The arena was built, in part, with $250 million from taxpayers. The financing package was the subject of considerable debate in Madison in 2015, with even Milwaukee's delegation splitting its votes.
The Bucks honored former owner Herb Kohl, who gave $100 million to fund the project. The team named the new plaza outside Fiserv Forum as "Herb Kohl Way."
"I have dedicated a main portion of my life to see this day arrive," Kohl said. "A day when we as a community can celebrate the fact that Milwaukee will remain today, tomorrow, and for all of our lifetimes, an NBA city."
In the summer heat, the ceremony dragged on for an hour. One person in the crowd needed medical attention.
Fans were anxious to get inside. Team president Peter Feigin had the unenviable duty of speaking last, getting booed for thanking what seemed like his entire family.
"My brothers, my nephews, my nieces, my sister-in-law, my parents-in-law. Most importantly--" Feigin said, stopping as boos rained down. "They're booing my family? Terrible."
Once the arena finally opened, fans sat court-side and took it all in.
"It's nice. It's large!" said Brooke Birdsong, who said Antetokounmpo was her favorite player.
"The old arena kind of seemed cooped up and everything like that, whereas this one is big and open and everything like that," said Ryan Bujack, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student.
The arena's concession stands also were open for the first time. They featured items with sky-high prices, including bottled water for $7, domestic beer for $11, and craft beer for $12.
The arena's first event is a rock concert featuring The Killers on Sept. 4.
Silver said he never delivered an ultimatum to the Bucks' owners and Wisconsin officials to get a new arena built or the team would relocate.
"I think everybody understood what the consequences would be of not getting a new arena built," he said. "But it didn’t take me coming from the league office saying, 'Do this or else.'"
Team co-owner Wes Edens said he never doubted that the arena would get built.
"I really thought it was so much the right answer for the organization, the city, the state that we would get to the right place," Edens said.
None of the Bucks' officials said what the team had planned for the Bradley Center land once the old arena is demolished. Edens said the team would not demolish the Bradley Center's parking garage at North 6th Street and West Highland Avenue.