Tens of thousands of basketball fans lined downtown Milwaukee for a special parade to celebrate the city’s first NBA championship in half a century on July 22.

For the 2.5 mile route that left from the Milwaukee County War Memorial and arrived at the Fiserv Forum, a caravan of vehicles comprised of SUVs, pickups, flatbeds, and open-air buses transported the Bucks players with team owners, management, staff, and families. Also participating in the parade were elected officials Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. Previous team owner and former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl kicked off the event.

Thousands of spectators lined the streets along the route, held back by barriers and police. Parade watchers were asked not to camp, place furniture, or reserve spaces along the parade route during the overnight hours prior to the event. Street closures and parking restrictions were also in place.

Fans could be heard chanting “Bucks in 6” with the accompanying hand gesture of 6 fingers. The odd rally cry had its roots in a fruitless prediction by former Bucks player Brandon Jennings in 2013, that the team would win the playoffs in 6 games. The Bucks last won an NBA Championship in 1971, and the team had not been to the NBA finals since 1974.

Before the parade began, Governor Evers issued a proclamation making Thursday, July 22, 2021 “Bucks in Six” Day. He said in a tweet that “History has been made and the prophecy fulfilled!”

The team’s ascendance has invigorated Milwaukee, a city far from the league’s more cosmopolitan venues like Los Angeles, Boston, or Miami that can attract top players in the basketball. One reason local fans embraced Antetokounmpo was due to his loyalty to the team that drafted him eight years ago when he was just 18.

“Milwaukee, we did it baby! We did it!” Giannis Antetokounmpo told a cheering crowd in the Deer District, the area outside of the Fiserv Forum. “This is our city, this is our city, we did it! Unbelievable.”

Police estimated 100,000 people jammed the Deer District for Game 6 on July 20. Even though the coronavirus pandemic has lessened compared to a year ago, the level of cases in both Wisconsin and Milwaukee County are still rated as high, with daily new cases almost tripling over the past two weeks.

City health officials noted that announcements of the parade had urged that unvaccinated people wear masks, but few were visible among fans on the parade route or later in the Deer District. The city health department said their contact tracing team would closely monitor the event.

“We are concerned,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services. “We know people wanted to be jubilant and celebrate. But we know, half the state is fully vaccinated and half the state is not and I assume the same is true for people in the Deer District and the arena. And I didn’t see half the crowd masked.”

Lee Matz