Today is the 40th anniversary of the Milwaukee Bucks’ first and only NBA title, when the Bucks defeated the Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards) to sweep the 1971 NBA Finals.
The Bucks were just in their third season of existence. Their first year went sufficiently badly that they were part of the coin flip for the first draft pick. The Bucks won the coin flip and selected UCLA center Lew Alcindor. (Who, I concluded a few years later from a sports book I read in third grade, was a dead ringer for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.) One year later, the Bucks traded for guard Oscar Robertson, and that pair dominated the NBA in 1970–71, ending with …
The Bucks never won an NBA title after that (they’re still in the NBA, although they seem unlikely to contend for a title in my lifetime), although 1971–72 was highlighted by their beating the Los Angeles Lakers to end the Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game winning streak. Two years after that, the Bucks got to the NBA Finals again, losing in seven games to Boston despite perhaps the best playoff game ever, the double-overtime sixth game.
(The CBS announcer on the preceding clips is, believe it or don’t, Pat Summerall, working with Rick Barry, who was still an active player at the time.)
The Bucks originally were in the NBA’s Western Conference before moving to the Eastern Conference in the 1980s. They probably should have stayed in the West. In the 1980s, with Don Nelson as coach and such players as Sidney Moncrief and Marques Johnson, the Bucks were widely thought of as the NBA’s fourth best team. Unfortunately, two of the top three were in the same conference — Boston (Larry Bird) and Philadelphia (Julius Erving), one of which usually ended the Bucks’ season in the playoffs. (Had the Bucks been in the West, they would have had to get past one team, the Magic Johnson-led Lakers.)
Then Herb Kohl bought the Bucks, Nelson and Kohl didn’t get along, Nelson left and the Bucks descended into irrelevance except for a couple years when George Karl was hired as coach, culminating in the 2000–01 season, when the Bucks lost the Eastern Conference finals to … Philadelphia. Did you know the Bucks didn’t make the playoffs this season? You’re forgiven if you didn’t notice.