I-94 Rivalry

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? When that old adage morphs into reality, it can create quite the spectacle.

Such is the case for the Milwaukee Bucks and rival Chicago Bulls, whose home arenas are separated by a mere 90 miles, making them two of the closest teams in the NBA (the pair of teams playing in New York and Los Angeles not withstanding). With the closeness in proximity of the two franchises, the passion and “friendly” competition amongst fans wherever the matchup is taking place is truly evident. 

The Bucks and Bulls have squared off head-to-head 235 times in the regular season and another 18 times in the playoffs in the 48 years since the Bucks entered the NBA in 1968 (the Bulls joined the league two years prior). The Bulls hold a 127-108 edge all-time in regular season games, though the baton is passed to the Bucks in terms of head-to-head playoff wins (10-8). The most memorable series win over the rivals from the south came during Michael Jordan’s first playoff appearance in 1985, when the Sidney Moncrief-led Bucks took down Jordan’s Bulls 3-1.  

The rivalry has intensified in recent years, however, as an array of current and future NBA stars – from Derrick Rose to Giannis Antetokounmpo – have taken the court to participate in one of the NBA’s most storied matchups. Bulls fans have enjoyed a string of success in Milwaukee over the last few seasons, highlighted by a 106-104 win on March 7, 2012, in which Rose scored the final two of his 30 points on a game-winning jumper at the final buzzer, but the Bucks have flipped the script recently by winning the last two regular season game in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists powered the Bucks to a 106-101 meeting in the first meeting in Milwaukee this season.

Last year’s Eastern Conference First Round playoff matchup between the 3rd-seeded Bulls and the 6th-seeded Bucks was a particularly testy affair that brought out the best in both fan bases. Over the course of what would be a six-game series, the Bulls jumped out to an early 3-0 series lead (including a double-overtime win in Game 3) before the Bucks stormed back in Games 4 and 5 with a win at home on a last second Jerryd Bayless layup and a road win at the United Center behind 43 combined points from Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams. The gas tank on the comeback would run empty on the Bucks in Game 6, however, as the Bulls took down the Bucks in resounding fashion to move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

While the action on the court is always fierce when the Bucks and Bulls do battle, the budding rivalry has created a rowdy atmosphere in the stands that nearly matches the intensity on the court. Last year the Bucks took steps to combat the always-vocal contingent of Bulls fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, encouraging Bucks fans to trade in their old red gear for new green shirts during the playoff series as the Bucks faithful showed up in droves to drown out the rivals from the south.

As the Bucks and Bulls take the court again today, there will surely be an air of intensity in the BMO Harris Bradley Center as the teams continue to wrestle for the upper hand in the longstanding rivalry. The vocal fan bases of both teams will continue to stoke the fire, with the players clearly feeding off the energy that’s always present in the BMO Harris Bradley Center when the Bucks and Bulls do battle.

Written by Connor Basch for tonight's Game Program

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