Forty years ago, the Bucks were the best in the basketball world
It was 40 years ago tonight, in the old Baltimore Arena, that the Milwaukee Bucks, just three years removed from their expansion season, sat atop the basketball universe.
The Bucks, led by future Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (still Lew Alcindor at that point), polished off a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets to clinch what is still the only National Basketball Association Championship in franchise history.
Three players from that team – Robertson, Abdul-Jabbar and Jon McGlocklin – have their numbers hanging from the Bradley Center rafters. It's not a nostalgic move on the Bucks' part; those three men were big-time players.
"(That team) had a combination of experience with Oscar and youth with Kareem," says John Steinmiller, the Bucks' Vice President of Business Operations. "You had Kareem in his second season, then pair him with Oscar, who was one of the best in the game. Then you look at the mix of other talent, (Bobby) Dandrige, (Lucius) Allen, McGlocklin ... It was just great combination, their great chemistry ... most of them had played a year together."
It's hard to believe that the Bucks were just three years old when they won the title. Milwaukee went 27-55 in its first NBA season and famously won a coin toss with fellow expansion team Phoenix (which went 16-66) for the top pick in the draft and, ostensibly, the right to select Abdul-Jabbar
The Bucks did just that and instantly rocketed in the standings, finishing 56-26, just four games behind Eastern Division champion New York. The Bucks fell to the Knicks, 4-1, in the division finals but it didn't take long – all of one day, actually – for the Bucks to find the final piece to a championship puzzle.
That piece was Robertson, then a 31-year-old, 6-foot-5, who had found himself at odds with Cincinnati Royals head coach Bob Cousy. The Bucks shipped guard Flynn Robinson and forward Charlie Paulk to the Royals, who had finished a dismal 33-49 the year before, for Robertson.
Robertson had played 11 years in the league, all with the Royals, who had achieved only limited success. His arrival in Milwaukee, where he would team with a star-in-the-making in Abdul-Jabbar, was not unlike the arrival of Reggie White in Green Bay when the Packers were building themselves into a Super Bowl Champion.
"I remember the very first day, the whole atmosphere and attitude was this is a championship team, we were thinking 'this is our year,'" says McGlocklin, now the team's television analyst. "I think there was a writer who was going to do a book on us. I remember getting that kind of national attention. It was rare. We were focused on a championship. We felt like it was our year. Everything fell into place."
Milwaukee was almost unstoppable during the regular season, rolling to a 66-16 record. The Bucks set a then-NBA record, winning 20 consecutive games between Feb. 6 and March 8 and Abdul-Jabbar would earn most valuable player honors after the season for averaging 31.7 points and 16 rebounds.
The Big O, meanwhile, averaged 19.4 points and 8.2 assists while playing all 81 games. And, he shot just under 50 percent from the field. During the playoffs, he dished out a post-season leading 124 assists (8.9/game) and scored 18.3 points.
"We knew that he was the main, final piece," McGlocklin says. "We had two great players. We had some very good complementary players which proved to be true, but he was the final piece to the puzzle."
In the final game, Robertson scored 21 of his 30 points in the first half as Milwaukee finished off the sweep with a 118-106 victory. Abdul-Jabbar would be named MVP of the Finals and finished the post-season with 26.6 points and 17 rebounds per game.
"It wasn't like taking LeBron (James) and a (Chris) Bosh and a (Dwyane) Wade and putting them all together like that; it wasn't that obvious," Steinmiller says. "It was one thing to draft Kareem. Getting Oscar at the right time and adding to this combination was a great move ... and it paid off."
Just how good were the 1970-71 Bucks? Consider this: the team finished the regular season with an average point differential of 12.2 points – seven points higher than any team in the league and the third-best of all-time. The Bucks' three divisional rivals, Chicago, Phoenix and Detroit, each finished with a winning percentage of at least .549.
They were even more lethal in the post-season, rolling to a championship with a 14-2 record and beating their opponents by an average of 14.5 points per game. The closest contest came in game three of the finals, a 107-99 victory.
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The Milwaukee Bucks were the winningest basketball team up until 1991(Bucks media guide). The oddly enough the Kohl ownership started and for the next 20 years the Bucks have become bottom dwellers with the sole highlight coming in 2001.
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