Most Hyped: Two decades of Bucks hype, from the Big Dog to Brandon

Mike McGinnis

In the latest SB Nation theme day, we focus on two of the most hyped players to wear a Bucks jersey in the last 20 years.

Today's SB Nation NBA theme day: most hyped. Head over to the SB Nation mothership for more, and give us your favorite (least favorite) stories of Bucks hype down in the comments.

If we had to pick just one player from Bucks history who "objectively" had the highest expectations of greatness, it's tough to argue for anyone other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Arguably the greatest collegiate player in basketball history, Lew Alcindor was expected to dominate the NBA from his first professional game. And he did. Alcindor was a superstar from the moment he first stepped on the NBA hardwood, winning an MVP and bringing an NBA title to Milwaukee in just his second season. You know the rest.

But hype is by definition not an objective concept or something that can be distilled to algorithm. It is distinctly intangible and personal in how we perceive it, a product of style and substance, an animal that preys on fans' hope and optimism. You were more likely to be seduced by hype as a child, and more likely to complain about it as an adult. It is in many ways what makes sports fascinating, and at times completely insufferable. Its oversupply has also become one of the defining traits of the ESPN-ified 24/7 news cycle. And it most certainly isn't going anywhere.

Since how we interpret and process hype is a fairly personal experience, I thought it was only fair to focus my "most hyped" column on someone who played during my time as a Bucks fan. So no Kareem, Oscar, or Sir Sid. That still left plenty of options: the semi-satisfying career of Glenn Robinson, the hope that came with Andrew Bogut, the bizarre year of Yi Jianlian, and the occasional greatness of Brandon Jennings (more on him later).  But as someone who grew up on the Bucks of the '90s, for me this can only really be about one guy: Glenn Robinson.

All of which says as much about my personal experience as a fan as it does Robinson himself. I can remember sitting in my living room watching the draft lottery during the 1994 playoffs, and the glee I felt when the Mavericks' logo came up with the second overall pick. After watching Milwaukee struggle through my first two seasons as a fan, the Bucks were getting the first overall pick. I hadn't been a fan long enough to know how big of a deal this should be, but that didn't diminish my excitement. After all, I was still a kid.

"We're getting the Big Dog!" I yelled to my dad, who was working in our garden at the time. No further explanation was needed. Afterall, Robinson's utter domination of the 93/94 college basketball season seemed to make this a no-brainer. A strong, silky-smooth scorer who put up 30 points and over 10 rebounds per game in the Big Ten? Who does that? How could he not be a future star in the NBA?

The all-around pedigree of Grant Hill and brilliance of Jason Kidd may have tempted the Bucks to take a different direction, and ultimately both players proved superior pros to Robinson. But 13-year-old Frank never really considered either as likely options. Robinson was going to be the Bucks' new star. This was going to be great!

The hype surrounding Robinson's arrival was not without economic bluster as well. Rumors of a $100 million contract swirled immediately, and though he would eventually settle for a mere $68 million over ten years, the insanity of a nine-figure package being discussed helped compel the league to move to more restrictive rookie scale contracts in the next CBA.

On the court, Robinson was a scorer from the moment he first put on a Bucks jersey. Though Kidd and Hill beat him to rookie of the year honors, his 21.9 ppg suggested he would be an elite NBA scorer; indeed, only Allen Iverson and Blake Griffin have averaged more points as a rookie in the two decades since Robinson made his debut in 94/95.

But while Hill and Kidd continued to improve and refine their games over the coming seasons, Robinson's improvements were far more marginal. As a college four whose lack of size limited him mostly to playing small forward in the NBA, Robinson's collegiate rebounding numbers never translated to anything beyond "good for a small forward." He struggled defensively and turned the ball over too regularly, the product of small hands and a loose handle. He pined to be the Bucks' franchise player yet never seemed comfortable with the media; unlike Hill or teammate Ray Allen, he was never going to sell sneakers to suburban kids.

And yet here I was, a decidedly suburban kid who always found himself rooting for Glenn to be the guy. Maybe it was timing. Glenn was the first player that I expected to be great, and that feeling of investment was one I never relinquished. Even as Allen began to match and often surpass Robinson on the court, I felt an odd loyalty to Robinson that precluded me from ever truly embracing Allen.

And though Robinson may have fallen short of superstardom, he still provided plenty to enjoy. While advanced stats make his numbers seem more hollow in hindsight, he could always be penciled in for 20/6, pouring in points with catch-and-shoot jumpers and an array of turnarounds and face-ups from the post. If you needed a good look, he could get it. And though his body language was mostly subdued and often appeared even lackadaisical, a vicious dunk would elicit a scowl or yell that seemed all the more emphatic for how rarely we saw it.

The expectations for Robinson in Milwaukee didn't make things easy for him, but as fans we suffered with him. And that made the Bucks' run to the brink of the NBA Finals in 2001 all the more redemptive for Robinson and the franchise as a whole. We can only wonder how the series might have turned out if he hadn't missed a potential winning jumper in game five, but so it goes. Robinson had the best all-around season of his career that year (22.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 20.1 PER) and for the first time in over a decade the Bucks mattered again.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. After the disastrous 01/02 season, the Big Three was dismantled and Robinson was shipped off to Atlanta, though he wasn't forgotten. I remember the warm ovation he received upon his return to the Bradley Center and how right it felt. He may not have lived up to the incredible hype that accompanied him from Purdue, but we had come to grips with that. Two all-star games, a trip to the Conference Finals and the journey that came with it were still worth celebrating. To this day he's the only Buck I can recall myself really rooting for once he left Milwaukee--not because he was more worthy than other players, but because he was the guy I had pinned my hopes on for so long.

His playing days seemed to unravel quickly after his lone season in Atlanta, though Robinson managed to go out on top as a late-season addition to the 2005 championship-winning Spurs team. After sitting out the first half of the season with elbow and ankle injuries, he joined the Spurs in March and played sparingly in the playoffs that spring, a 16-point outburst in the second round against Seattle marking his only notable contribution. Triumphant and anonymous all at the same time, Robinson never signed another NBA contract and quietly rode off into the NBA sunset at the age of just 32. No glitzy retirement ceremony and certainly no hype.

Robinson has largely stayed out of the spotlight since he left the NBA, though he did return with a smile on his face as part of the Bucks' 40-year anniversary festivities in 2009. And in the last season he's been a more regular face on TV thanks to his son Glenn III, who burst onto the college scene at Michigan and will likely be a first round pick a year or two from now. The elder Robinson has not surprisingly been a frequent spectator at Michigan games over the past year, rooting on his son 20 years after he took the Big Ten by storm himself. The NBA hype surrounding Glenn III has already started. And honestly? Two decades after his dad became the Bucks' great hope, I find myself rooting for Glenn III, too.

BRANDON JENNINGS

by Eric Buenning

Rewind to 2009.

The Bucks were coming off of a couple less-than-inspiring seasons and were again, looking for that star player to bring energy and excitement back to Milwaukee. Andrew Bogut was a pretty solid center and defensive anchor, but it became clear that he wasn't going to be solely capable of turning the franchise's fortunes around.

So in late June 2009 (and some time after they had selected him) in strode Brandon Jennings. The kid notorious for taking the road less traveled by foregoing college in favor of playing in Italy was back on the big stage, and it didn't take him long to shine in that spotlight.

Jennings was electric in Vegas shortly after the draft and by opening night had cajoled his way into the starting five. In his pro debut, he was one rebound and one assist shy of a triple-double. In his second game, he did this:

He followed that up with performances of 25 and 32 points before, well, "the game."

I'm willing to bet most consistent Bucks fans remember where they were that night.  For me, it was in the basement of my dorm.  I remember shouting out reactions like, "OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!", "WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!", and making incomprehensible sounds while running around our study room.

Outside of the ridiculous 55 point outburst that night, Bucks fans like myself started to get that feeling again; the feeling of "hey, maybe we have something here finally." In that first month of the 2009-2010 season, you could say we believed in something again.

Fast forward to April 10th, 2010.  This was the night that Andrew Bogut died took the gruesome fall that just gutted the Bucks and Milwaukee as a fanbase. At the time, it felt like the worst possible thing to ever happen to the Bucks (to me). The Fear the Deer campaign was in full force, and to have the leader go down like that was just devastating. The Bucks still comfortably made the playoffs as the sixth seed, but their climb was a hell of a lot more steep.

The Bucks did end up losing to the Atlanta Hawks in 7 games, but there was a moment in the end of Game 5 that I still remember to this day.  After the Bucks had completed their somewhat shocking comeback in Atlanta, Jennings was fouled and sent to the line to essentially clinch the victory and send Milwaukee home with a 3-2 series advantage.  For a rookie, making those free throws may stir up a few jitters. Jennings instead confidently strode on up to the line and effortlessly knocked down the two free throws.

I remember recognizing just how fearless he appeared to be, and that this was just the beginning of where this team could go. It seemed like the Bucks were finally going to turn the corner. The funny thing about memories is that is all they're going to be. You can't re-create them. You have to build on them.

The past three seasons have been a revolving door of failed memory re-creation, with really only one constant in Jennings. The starting point guard since day one, this was Jennings' ship to navigate all along. Granted he didn't have the most outstanding crew to work with (post FTD roster additions included Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, [a less motivated] John Salmons, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, and JJ Redick), it was always expected--or, at least, calculated--that Jennings was going to blossom into a player good enough to make himself and his teammates much better. It just never happened.

Jennings never really showed sustainable growth in his game in his numbers or shooting splits, and his defense paraglided away from anything remotely respectable in his last two seasons. The kid who once brandished his tenacity and swagger almost every night now seemed like he was picking his spots. He was becoming more emotional, but in strange ways. When he wasn't selected for All-Star games, his production would drop off for the month of February (whether that's correlated or not is unclear, but what else could it be about?). He started talking about weighing his options when his next contract came about; he talked about how attractive other markets were and how he could see himself enjoying playing there. The relationship we all thought we had with him began to sour.

Now that he's in Detroit, we have an end chapter to his Milwaukee story. We can legitimately raise questions about him and us. Were the expectations too high on him after the 55 point game? Was he really ever capable of being a superstar? Was too much asked of him with too little support? Most likely: yes, no, yes.

The fact of the matter is the relationship between Jennings and the Bucks didn't work. Who knows what really played into it at the end, but one thing is for certain. The Brandon Jennings of now is not and probably never was the guy we were once ready to parade around the city.

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