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A Brief History of the Milwaukee Bucks

By Jennifer Hassan in NBA
| October 12, 2020 1:42 am PDT
Milwaukee Bucks History

It is said that the word, “Milwaukee” comes from the Algonquin language, and means “beautiful and good.” Fans of the Bucks will agree that there have been moments, games, winning streaks in this franchise that have felt exactly that way.

Many NBA expansion teams go through an awkward stage, and they don’t enter the playoffs until they are in their “tween” years.

Not so Milwaukee. This team had the great good fortune (and intelligence) to draft a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which sent the team right to the top while they were still in diapers.

Here’s my look at Milwaukee Bucks history.

Bucks History Overview

Here is a bit about how the Bucks got their start in the league, back in the late 1960s. The team has come a long way from hardworking Midwestern boys to the competitive team they are now.

Who Founded the Milwaukee Bucks?

There was a group of sports fans who also had enough capital to dream about bringing a professional basketball team to Milwaukee. In 1958 this group—called Milwaukee Professional Sports—won an NBA franchise.

The leaders of this investment group were local men Wesley Pavalon and Marvin Fishman.

When Did the Bucks Join the NBA?

The Bucks have never spent a day outside of the NBA. The NBA was founded in 1946, and even after it was created, there were competing leagues and a certain amount of post-war confusion in professional sports.

Early teams did have to work to get into the league, but later franchise expansion teams were created right within the league, as happened with the Bucks when they were “born” in 1968.

Bucks Playoff History

Allen Iverson

There are teams that have only made it to the conference finals once in their history (I’m looking at you, Timberwolves), but the Bucks went all the way to their conference finals in their first trip through the postseason.

Their second trip to the playoffs took the Bucks triumphantly through the conference finals, and into the NBA finals, the ultimate matchup. Here, they beat the Bullets in a 4 – 0 shutout. This triumph was due in large part to the presence of superstar rookie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the most illustrious and honored basketball players to ever pick up a ball.

A promising start for this team in the late sixties and early seventies, that translated into unfortunately sporadic attendance at semi-finals and higher games for the rest of their history.

The Bucks could have had a shot at the title when they faced the 76ers in 2001, but that genius of the game, Allen Iverson, stopped the train from Milwaukee dead in its tracks.

Season Results
1969 – 1970 Lost to Knicks in conference finals, 4 – 1
1970 – 1971 Defeated Bullets in NBA finals, 4 – 0
1971 – 1972 Lost to Lakers in conference finals, 4 – 2
1972 – 1973 Lost to Warriors in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
1973 – 1974 Lost to Celtics in NBA finals, 4 – 3
1975 – 1976 Lost to Pistons in opening round, 2 – 1
1977 – 1978 Lost to Nuggets in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1979 – 1980 Lost to SuperSonics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1981 – 1982 Lost to Sixers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
1982 – 1983 Lost to Sixers in conference finals, 4 – 1
1983 – 1984 Lost to Celtics in conference finals, 4 – 1
1984 – 1985 Lost to Sixers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 0
1985 – 1986 Lost to Celtics in conference finals, 4 – 0
1986 – 1987 Lost to Celtics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1987 – 1988 Lost to Hawks in opening round, 3 – 2
1988 – 1989 Lost to Pistons in conference semi-finals, 4 – 0
1989 – 1990 Lost to Bulls in opening round, 3 – 1
1990 – 1991 Lost to Sixers in opening round, 3 – 0
1998 – 1999 Lost to Pacers in opening round, 3 – 0
1999 – 2000 Lost to Pacers in opening round, 3 – 2
2000 – 2001 Lost to Sixers in conference finals, 4 – 3
2002 – 2003 Lost to Nets in opening round, 4 – 2
2003 – 2004 Lost to Pistons in opening round, 4 – 1
2005 – 2006 Lost to Pistons in opening round, 4 – 1
2009 – 2010 Lost to Hawks in opening round, 4 – 3
2012 – 2013 Lost to Heat in opening round, 4 – 0
2014 – 2015 Lost to Bulls in opening round, 4 – 2
2016 – 2017 Lost to Raptors in opening round, 4 – 2
2017 – 2018 Lost to Celtics in opening round, 4 – 3
2018 – 2019 Lost to Raptors in conference finals, 4 – 2
2019 – 2020 Lost to Heat in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1

Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach History

former Milwaukee Bucks coach Don Nelson

The Bucks have been lucky enough to enjoy the leadership of two different men awarded with “NBA Coach of the Year” while with the team.

Don Nelson, the Bucks’ second coach, won the award twice while with the team, and the current coach, Mike Budenholzer, won Coach of the Year for the 2018 – 2019 season.

Here’s a look through all the head coaches in Milwaukee Bucks history.

Tenure Coach Prior Experience
1968 – 1976 Larry Costello player, 76ers
1976 – 1987 Don Nelson player, Celtics
1987 – 1991 Del Harris Rockets coach
1991 – 1992 Frank Hamblen Bulls asst. coach
1992 – 1996 Mike Dunleavy player, Spurs
1996 – 1998 Chris Ford Celtics coach
1998 – 2003 George Karl SuperSonics coach
2003 – 2005 Terry Porter Kings asst. coach
2005 – 2007 Terry Stotts Warriors asst. coach
2007 – 2008 Larry Krystkowiak Old Dominion Univ. coach
2008 – 2013 Scott Skiles Bulls coach
2013 Jim Boylan Bulls coach
2013 – 2014 Larry Drew Hawks coach
2014 – 2018 Jason Kidd Nets coach
2018 Joe Prunty Nets asst. coach
2018 – present Mike Budenholzer Hawks coach

Where Have You Been, Glenn Robinson?

In 1994, the Bucks were lucky enough to grab a forward out of Purdue. Glenn Robinson was the first pick of the first round, making him the “star” of his draft class. Unlike other first picks, who would buckle under the pressure, Robinson lived up to the hype.

Robinson averaged more than 20 points per game, and that was in his first year as a professional player. When Bucks player Ray Allen was drafted two years later, the team started to see a positive shift in their win-loss record.

Robinson played with the Bucks from 1994 through 2002, before moving on to play with the Atlanta Hawks, the 76ers and the Spurs.

In his career, Robinson was elected twice to the NBA All-Star team, voted onto the NBA All-Rookie First Team, and took his team to the title in 2005.

A Greek God in Milwaukee

Hard to spell, easy to watch, it is tough to believe that Giannis Antetokounmpo was picked 15th in the 2013 NBA draft. He plays like a top-three draft pick.

Antetokounmpo started his American professional career with the Bucks, but he had two years of professional experience in his home country of Greece.

With the Bucks, G.A. has fulfilled his NBA draft-day promise to excel at both offense and defense. His commitment is evident as he throws himself to the ground in steal attempts.

Antetokounmpo was voted MVP of the NBA twice, in consecutive years (2019 and 2020).

G.A. was also elected the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, the Most Improved Player, and has been elected to the NBA All-Star team four times.

Khris Middleton

Middleton has been with the Bucks since 2013. He is strong and focused with his three-pointers, and in 2020 he made 36 points with eight rebounds in a game against the Heat.

Although it has been several years since he was drafted by Milwaukee, it feels like Middleton is coming into his own, finding his prowess in difficult court situations, finding his timing, and unleashing in the clutch.

Khris made an impressive 51 points in a game against the Wizards, proving to one and all that he’s a threat on the court. Somehow, Middleton manages to look relaxed on offense, as if the game is a high school match in the beginning of the regular season before the pressure is on and the parents are in the stands.

But he gets the job done, and the Bucks rely on him to be there when it counts. His skill with the three-pointers has started to pull his co-players off the bench to leap high in exultation when he makes the shot. It’s just an added bonus that his three-pointers rarely touch the rim.

Ersan “I’ll Save Ya” Ilyasova

And when Khris Middleton cannot take the shot, he partners with closer Ersan Ilyasova. This power forward out of Turkey played pro ball in Europe from 2003 to 2005 before being drafted by the Bucks.

Ilyasova stands out for not showboating. He treats basketball as if it is as important as brain surgery, requiring total focus, and satisfaction in success, but no whooping in the hospital halls. A total professional.

Ilyasova has an easy, wide dribble that pays homage to his substantial wingspan. He makes shots that are high, perfect arcs that make points with a minimum of fuss.

This player left the Bucks to try his luck with a few other teams, but returned to the Bucks’ roster in 2018.

Ilyasova is an energetic blocker, playing defense and offense with equal facility. Most importantly, perhaps, is the points he makes effortlessly with zero seconds on the clock. These buzzer-beaters have pulled the Bucks out of the “loss” column more than once.

Remembering the Kareem of the Crop

No one who ever saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play forgot it. Some athletes take sports to a transcendent level—in short, to art.

Earl Monroe and Wilt Chamberlain are two names that come to mind, NBA icons of power and grace.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar belongs in this group. While still in high school, he took his team to 71 back-to-back wins, garnering much slavering attention from college scouts.

Abdul-Jabbar played with only two NBA teams in his illustrious career, the Lakers and the Bucks. He was with the Bucks from 1969—when Milwaukee selected him in the draft as the first overall pick out of UCLA—until 1975.

In his first season with Milwaukee, and as a pro, Abdul-Jabbar led the team to a win-loss record of 56-26, and suddenly the team was near the top of the league, second only to the New York Knicks.

It came as no surprise when Abdul-Jabbar—who still went by his birth name of Lew Alcindor back then—was awarded Rookie of the Year. He would go on to be voted onto the All-Star team an explosive 19 times, not bad for a 20-year career!

Abdul-Jabbar’s strengths were legion. He had his “skyhook,” a full-body shot that was nearly impossible for defenders to curtail.

Kareem was—and still is—the league’s top scorer, with more than 38,000 points to his name in his professional career. (And who knows how many more in those 71 back-to-back high school wins, not to mention his championship UCLA seasons.)

Abdul-Jabbar has been called “the greatest offensive player of all time” and even “the greatest player of all time.” Of course, these appellations are subjective, but Abdul-Jabbar’s prowess is universally recognized.

In a court full of the world’s elite players, Abdul-Jabbar managed to make them all look like amateurs. When the great Wilt Chamberlain looks unhappy when you arrive on the court, you know that you must be the best of the best.

Abdul-Jabbar is one player who will never be forgotten; he will live forever in sports history with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Jesse Owens.

In Sum

The Bucks have been gaining strength and stature almost without anyone noticing. Other teams seem to absorb much more of the spotlight, but that just allows the dark horses to canter on into the playoffs.

Many Milwaukee fans suspect the best is yet to come for the team, and the team is gaining a fan base far beyond the Midwest, a sure sign of presence and promise.

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