For the last quarter century Bucks owner Herb Kohl has sat in his seat at the Bradley Center and wondered what the next few months held.
He has spent fortunes. He has hired and fired and hired and fired, over and over again. He has sought advice and kept his own counsel. He's listened to experts and to people who know next to nothing about basketball.
In that time he's won four elections for his U.S. Senate seat, and he's donated millions of dollars to charity.
He has a lot of fans and some critics, as well. But this is always a special time of year for him; the time when a basketball season starts. It's a time of hope and wonder.
On the eve of the 2010-11 National Basketball Association season, Kohl sat down with OnMilwaukee.com to discuss his life as an NBA owner.
OnMilwaukee.com: It's been 25 opening nights for you. Is the anticipation the same every year or does it differ with the expectations for your team?
Sen. Herb Kohl: Every year you try and be realistic about your chances. Some years are better than others. This year our anticipation is high. We've got a good roster of players with good character. We have a very, very good coach and a very, very good general manager. This year my excitement level is very high.
OMC: Were there years when your excitement level wasn't so high?
HK: You try to be realistic about your chances. Some years are better than others. But you want to be realistic. You hope, naturally that you can make the playoffs and some years you think maybe we can't. There are other years you feel more strongly about your team.
OMC: When your team doesn't look all that good does it reduce your enthusiasm?
HK: No, I look forward to every game, and it's exciting for me. You go into every game hoping to win, especially home games. So I've been excited every year. If I didn't feel excited about owning this team and the community and the role that the team plays in the community I wouldn't be an owner at this point, 25 years later.
OMC: When you took over 25 years ago you didn't know much about basketball, did you?
HK: That's wrong. When I went to school in Boston I went to all the Celtics games for three years. Not many people know this but I almost had the Bucks from the very beginning. Back in 1966 or '67 I thought Milwaukee could use a team. I called Walter Kennedy, the commissioner, and went to see him in New York. He said they were going to expand and Milwaukee would be a good place. I came home and cleared dates at the old Arena and met with the expansion committee. Then Kennedy called me and said they were going to award a franchise. He said I could have it but if I didn't want it there was another group, Pavalon's group, and the NBA was fine with them. I was very busy at Kohl's and my dad, he didn't think a basketball team was the way for his son to be in business. So I said no and the rest is history.
OMC: And what went around came around.
HK: In 1985, Jim Fitzgerald was interested in selling the team and there was a group in Minneapolis ready to buy it. I wanted to keep the team. We had sold Kohl's and I had the interest, the time and the money. I paid $18 million for it. That same year Jerry Reinsdorf paid the same amount for the Chicago Bulls. At that time basketball was not as big a game as it is now.
OMC: How have you changed after 25 years of owning this team?
HK: When you first buy a team you get all excited and revved up and overemphasized about things that you probably shouldn't get excited about. As the years go on, you acquire better judgment and know what's really important. When I first took over, every game became a life and death issue. That wasn't healthy for the coach, the players or me. I blew things way out of proportion. One game is not a season. There's always a game tomorrow and one after that.
OMC: What about mistakes? How do you deal with it when you've made a mistake?
HK: I don't think I'm defensive about that. I've always been that way. My dad was that way. You hope to be right all the time but you're not going to be. I have big issues making people changes. When I was at Kohl's, I was criticized when all the evidence was in I was still almost always reluctant to make a change with people. But you generally pay a price for doing nothing. So I've learned to pull the trigger, once the evidence is in. Of course, the evidence in the NBA is pretty easy. You either win or you lose. There's not much middle ground.
OMC: What's a harder job, being an NBA owner or a senator?
HK: They're totally different. One is a business, one is public service. The fun of the game is always more fun than a job like being a senator. But a senator's job is more important in terms of representing our state, people's hopes and dreams and the lives of their children. That's part of the public service. But I love owning the team. It's one of the happiest experiences of my life.
OMC: You are a gentleman, and the NBA is a tough, cutthroat business. Does that present any problems?
HK: It's a tough, cutthroat business. Guys would stab you in the back for whatever. How do I handle that? Well, I think we are all capable of different things. Maybe we conduct ourselves differently if we have to adjust to a situation. I have no trouble adjusting to the fact that the NBA
is a tough, very difficult business.
OMC: What would it be like to finally win an NBA title after all these years?
HK: That would be a huge thing. A huge thing. A huge, huge thing. Maybe someday.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.