Best Trade Ever: When Oscar Became A Buck And The Bucks Became Champions

The latest theme in our running series of SB Nation theme posts: BEST TRADE EVER! Last week we kicked things off with your favorite Bucks cult heroes, with Darvin Ham edging Paul Mokeski for the coveted title of all-time fan favorite.

A superstar in Milwaukee?

For most Bucks fans it's an abstract idea, a subject that inevitably devolves into debates about tanking and small market inferiority complexes. But anyone with a basic knowledge of Bucks--and NBA--history knows it wasn't always this way.

Yes, once upon a time, the Bucks did have a superstar. You've probably heard of him.

Six years (and three MVPs) after arriving in Milwaukee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's eventual trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975 marked the end of the Bucks' greatest era. But it was the arrival of fellow all-star Oscar Robertson four years earlier that took the Bucks to new heights. So while Abdul-Jabbar's departure may qualify as the most significant trade in Bucks history, the deal that brought Robertson to Milwaukee in exchange for Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk still stands out 41 years later as the franchise's best.

As with most trades involving superstars, Robertson's arrival in Milwaukee was not without its controversy. Former Celtics great and Cincinnati coach Bob Cousy was rumored to have resented Robertson, who despite collecting ten consecutive all-star appearances and the 1964 NBA MVP award became the subject of increasing criticism after Cincinnati fell short of the postseason in three straight seasons in the late '60s.

Cousy tried to belittle my contributions to basketball. It still bothers me. People say I should forget, but I'm not going to forget, ever. All I did was make All-NBA 10 straight years, and to hear that I hadn't done enough ... it still bothers me a lot.

It's worth noting that Robertson wasn't simply given away; Flynn Robinson averaged 21.8 ppg and 5.5 apg for the Bucks in the 69/70 season, numbers that were at least in the ballpark of Robertson's 25.3 ppg, 8.1 apg and 6.1 rpg in his final season in Cincinnati. But Robinson would never approach those numbers again and averaged just 19 mpg in his only season in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, former 1st round pick Paulk would play just 103 more games in the NBA period.

And while Robertson's numbers in Milwaukee would never approach the eye-popping figures he posted in his earlier years with the Royals his impact on the Bucks was no less immediate. With Lew Alcindor once again dominating in the post (31.7 ppg, 16.0 rpg, league-leading 29.0 PER and .326 win shares/48), Robertson posted an impressive 19.2 ppg, 8.2 apg and 5.2 rpg in nearly 40 minutes per night, earning his 11th all-star nod while spearheading a balanced supporting cast that also featured Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin and Greg Smith.

Milwaukee in turn steamrolled through the regular season with a league-best 66-16 record that featured a then-record 20 game win streak, and behind Alcindor and Robertson they had little trouble in dispatching the Warriors (4-1), Lakers (4-1) and Bullets (4-0) on their way to the Bucks' first and only NBA championship. For the 23-year-old Alcindor it was almost inevitable, the mere continuation of a history of dominance that also featured three consecutive Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards.

But for Robertson it was also redemption. No one had ever questioned the 32-year-old's talent or production, but his inability to carry the Royals to contention left an undeniable tarnish on his decade in Cincinnati. Just one year into his tenure with the Bucks those demons were exorcised, his 23 ppg and 9 apg in the Finals capped by a 30-point effort in the clinching game four in Baltimore.

Robertson was hardly finished, either. He would go on to play three more seasons in Milwaukee, earning a 12th all-star berth in 1972 and helping the Bucks to 63, 60 and 59 wins in his final three seasons. The last nearly culminated in a second championship, but the Bucks lost in seven games to the Celtics in the 1974 Finals. The game seven loss at home in Milwaukee would prove the last of Robertson's storied NBA career, but his legacy had already been cemented in basketball history. Triple-double-machine. Olympic gold medalist. MVP. And thanks to his trade to the Bucks? World champion.

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