Home Opener History

The Bucks are 33-12 in home openers in franchise history.
The Bucks are 33-12 in home openers in franchise history.

Prediction

The Bucks are going to win their home opener against Toronto on Nov. 2.

I don’t have any advanced stats to support this prediction. No quotes from players or coaches or GMs or friends expressing this sentiment. Nor do I have confidence that a team with a franchise-record 11 new names will run in stride before Thanksgiving, or even win as many games as they lose this year.

Here, the real reason that the Bucks are going to win their home opener is because they always win their home opener.

Home Opener History

Okay. Not always. But the Bucks are 33-12 in home openers in franchise history. That translates statistically to winning pretty much all the time (or 73.3 percent). Essentially, the Bucks turn into a dominant team during home openers.

First of all, how is this even possible? Sure, the Bucks play better at home than on the road every single year, so a winning record should be expected. But this .733 winning percentage is extreme. After all, the Bulls are a modest 26-21 in home openers. The Celtics, the most successful (or second most successful) team in NBA history, are 43-22 in home openers (also: lost to the Bucks in last season’s home opener).

(Sidenote: A manual search of online Media Guides leads me to believe that the Bucks might be the best home opening team of all. If there is a website with this information in a convenient space, please let me know.)

Anyway, they have won 13 of their last 15 home openers (during a span when they have won more than 42 games overall exactly twice). They have won 9 out of their last 10 home openers. The only home opening loss of the last 10 years? In 2008, in their only home opener against the Raptors.

Remember who they play on Nov. 2?

Best Home Openers

There is no logical reason why the Bucks are so, so good in home openers, and I like it that way.

One day I am going to do some more research to find out why they always win, and I probably won’t find an adequate answer. Today is not that day.

Today, I was going to reflect on the five or seven or ten best home openers in franchise history, starting with last season’s buzzer-beating game-winner

Instead, one game in particular captivated me.

November 2, 1991: Bucks 109, Bulls 107

Michael Jordan was defending an NBA title for the first time in his life. And not only that, he was coming off one of the greatest postseason performances by anyone in NBA history.

His Bulls swept the Knicks in the first round, then he closed out the 76ers with a 38/19/7 line. Jordan then completed a four-game sweep of the nemesis Bad Boy Pistons with a blowout win in Detroit in Game 4. After going for 36/8/12 in a Game 1 loss to Magic (and a fellow named Larry Drew) and the Lakers, the Bulls won four straight. He lost twice the entire postseason. Jordan averaged 31.2 points and 11.4 assists in the Finals. 

In 1991, Jordan was about to win another title and another MVP. The Bucks were about to go through two coaches and go 31-51. Jordan was also about to hang 46 points on the Bucks.

But on this night, Alvin Robertson, Jay Humphries, Fred Roberts, and friends had their way. Apparently. That is what it says here in the box score. It’s a magical little box score, but it doesn’t have the play-by-play. A YouTube search revealed some entertaining entries, but no highlights of the game.

At the time, I was five years old. So I couldn’t tell you that I have any real memory of the game. But my dad was a real Chicago guy and watched the Bulls religiously, so I could tell you all about the never-ending bookshelf of books that surrounded the television, and the sound of the popcorn machine in the kitchen, and that I did watch the game but just don’t remember.

How would I find out what really happened that night?

Why, this historic archive of course, which rates among the real marvels of the internet, somewhere not nearby NBACatWatch.

I found that this glorious home opening win against Jordan’s soon-to-be dynastic Bulls made the front page of the sports section of The Milwaukee Journal. Scribe Tom Enlund penned the story, which describes how a Jay Humphries “20-foot- lean-in jumper from the top of the key with 1.7 seconds remaining” pushed the Bucks to the win. Mention of Jordan’s 46 points didn’t arrive until the eighth paragraph.

Bucks head coach Del Harris said this after the game: “We won the championship for weekend one. Only 80 games to go.” He resigned 15 games later.

The big photograph on the front page of the sports section that morning featured Kenosha Tremper in high school football playoff action.

Just below that photo, Bud Selig was fighting (against all odds) the good fight to bring a new baseball stadium to Milwaukee. Miller Park opened 10 years later.

And just below that, ruminations on why the Packers simply cannot not win (they received a D- overall midseason grade later on in the section).

I scrolled paged through to C10 and found out more details about the Bucks game. Jordan, naturally, had tied the game on a driving layup with 17 seconds to go. The Bucks called a timeout and set up the play for Humphries. Harris: “That’s what we had going. Get it in and get the pick and roll for Jay.”

Digging through this bit of history makes me wish I could have been at that game, and almost made me feel like I was at that game. It makes me think I should have led with something other than a silly prediction. It gives me an idea for a series of stories that has me up late at night. It shows that things always, always change. It reminds me that sports and sports memories can provide bursts of momentary happiness or sadness that you think about before falling asleep that night and then forget about completely before rushing back with even more vivid force 22 years later. It lends me a refreshing perspective. That if I judge everything only by how a season ends, I might end up forgetting some of my opening nights as a basketball fan, like Nov. 2, 1991.  

 

 

Alex Boeder

My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.