MILWAUKEE - A gloomy, chilly and rainy December night didn't deter folks from getting their first taste of NBA basketball for the season.
A crowd estimated at around 3,500 showed up for the Bucks' free scrimmage at the Bradley Center and any lingering animosity over the 149-day lockout seemed to be forgotten for the moment.
"It warms our hearts, I can tell you that," said Bucks vice president of business operations, John Steinmiller. "Everybody's been excited. Our staff has worked hard all summer to keep their enthusiasm up and when we see people here on a night like this, it's great.
"It's encouraging to us."
Ron Kurtz of Oak Creek, a partial season-ticket holder, was seated a few rows from the court for the action. He had no issues with the lockout and is just happy to see basketball back, even if it's a few weeks later than normal.
"The players had to do what they had to do and the owners had to do what they had to do," Kurtz said. "Hopefully, this will help the small market. I'm not convinced it did. Some people say it didn't make any difference but Sen. Herb Kohl seems to be satisfied."
Sentiments like that put a smile on Steinmiller's face, but he is fully aware that not everybody in town will be as forgiving.
"There's somebody in every corner in terms of the range of feelings," Steinmiller said. "Our season ticket holders have been very loyal. We have some season ticket holders that we're working on hard to remind them of the value of our product . . . and we have the occasional fans ready to go and we still have fans who are disheartened by the lockout and we need to win them back. The best way to do it is by having a good product on the court."
On the court Wednesday, the Bucks went through a spirited exhibition, playing four 10-minute quarters with a running clock, that ended in a 65-65 tie.
The roster was split into two six-player teams. Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino, Brandon Jennings and Darrington Hobson started for the white team. Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Beno Udrih, Drew Gooden, Jon Brockman and Shaun Livingston made up the black team. Camp players Ron Howard and Marcus Lewis served as subs for the contest.
Head coach Scott Skiles swapped players throughout the final 30 minutes of action and overall, was pleased with what he saw, especially on the offensive side.
"The guys tried to play unselfishly and move the ball, they tried to knock down sure shots," Skiles said. "Defensively, it was not very good . . . we've got a lot to do on that end of the floor."
Jennings and Bogut looked especially sharp, and both squads seemed to work well in the transition game. Jennings scored 24 points total on 8-for-16 shooting while Bogut finished with 10 points in 20 minutes of work with three rebounds.
Dunleavy finished with 15 and Delfino added 14.
Along with the basketball part of the night, Wednesday also gave the Bucks an opportunity to get back inside the Bradley Center. They'll only play one home exhibition game this year and Skiles looked at Wednesday as a chance for his players, especially the newcomers, to get acquainted with their home court for the next several months.
"We've had some guys that have been here before but not in the locker room, the whole thing," Skiles said. "For the rookies, just to be here is good. It's those little things that people assume goes smoothly but it adds to the guys' comfort level to know where they're going and what they're doing."
Dunleavy, signed last week as a free agent, welcomed the chance to mingle with fans and check out the Bradley Center as a Milwaukee player. He'd been there before, during his father's tenure as head coach and general manager, and as a visitor during his own nine-year playing career.
"It's nice," Dunleavy said. "It's great to see the fans here. We've both been without basketball for a while so it's good to get everybody back in the building for a bit and have some fun. You don't want your first time out to be a real game so it's good to get out here and get used to the lighting, used to the rims and hopefully, we'll be ready by the opener."
Training camp continues this week at the team's facility in St. Francis. The Bucks' first exhibition game comes Saturday night at Minnesota and the Timberwolves come to Milwaukee next Wednesday at 8 p.m.