A couple weeks ago we asked you to vote for the top ten Bucks of all time. Today we begin revealing the results, with each of our nominations eligible for the forthcoming SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame ballot that will also include nominees from Brew Crew Ball, Acme Packing Company, Bucky's 5th Quarter and Anonymous Eagle.
As someone who began following the Bucks as a kid in the early '90s, I have to admit that it's always been difficult for me to fully comprehend and appreciate the early history of the franchise. Reading about superstar players, 60 win seasons, an NBA title--it always seemed somewhat surreal and divorced from the NBA reality I knew growing up. You mean the franchise existed before Todd Day and Eric Murdock?
And no one seems a more curious member of Bucks mythology than the NBA's all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem arrived in Milwaukee as Lew Alcindor, arguably the greatest college player of all time. And though he left Milwaukee in a storm of controversy, it's easy to forget that he spent a full six years in a Bucks uniform, racking up totals in points (14,211) and rebounds, (7,161) that have yet to be threatened in the 35 years since he left. Indeed, the man who most think of as a Laker through and through actually scored nearly 40% of his record 38,387 points while a member of the Bucks. And forty years after he first arrived, there's little doubt that that he's still the greatest player to ever wear a Milwaukee uniform.
After the Bucks went 27-55 in their inaugural 68/69 season, a coin flip saw the Bucks win the first overall pick and the right to select Alcindor, the three-time NCAA champion and consensus number one pick. The Bucks won 56 games the following season as Kareem (28.8 ppg/14.5 rpg) was named an all-star and Rookie of the Year, leading the Bucks past the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual champion Knicks. In 10 playoff games, the rookie averaged a stunning 35.2 ppg and 16.8 rpg, a warning of what was to come.
It didn't take long for the Bucks to bounce back. The arrival of Oscar Robertson and further improvement of Kareem saw Milwaukee race to a 17-1 start in 70/71, cruising to a 66-16 record that also included a then-record 20 game winning streak. Abdul-Jabbar won the first of his six MVPs and the first of two consecutive scoring titles (31.7 ppg), also leading the league in PER (29.0) and win shares (22.3). Milwaukee beat the Warriors and Wilt Chamberlain's Lakers in five games before sweeping Wes Unseld's Bullets in the finals. Kareem would officially adopt his Muslim name a day after being named Finals MVP.
The Bucks would win 63, 60 and 59 games the following three seasons, but a second title proved elusive. Kareem snagged his second straight MVP and averaged a career-high 34.8 ppg in 71/72, the last time he led the league in scoring, but the eventual champion Lakers got their revenge by beating the Bucks in the West Finals in six games. The following season saw another step backward with a loss in the West semis, despite another dominating season of 30.1 ppg and 16.1 rpg from Kareem. He also added 5.0 apg, the first of three seasons in which he dropped five or more dimes per game.
The Bucks bounced back by taking the Celtics to seven games in the 1974 Finals, but a third MVP season from Kareem ended without a second NBA title. A double overtime Milwaukee win in Boston forced a game seven, but the Bucks couldn't take care of business at home, losing by 15 to Havlicek, Cowens and the Celtics.
Kareem's final season in Milwaukee saw him once again put up big numbers, but for the first time it didn't translate into the win column. More importantly, Kareem wanted out. The NBA's most dominant player informed the Bucks before the season began that only New York or L.A. could meet his "cultural" needs.
"Live in Milwaukee? No, I guess you could say I exist in Milwaukee," Abdul-Jabbar said in a early magazine interview. "I am a soldier hired for service and I will perform that service well. Basketball has given me a good life, but this town has nothing to do with my roots. There's no common ground."
Statistically it was more of the same from Kareem, but something was amiss. After sitting out the season's first 16 games with a broken hand, Kareem dropped 30.0 ppg and 14.0 rpg--the last time he would crack the 30 point mark in his career. But following Oscar Robertson's retirement, the Bucks finished just 38-44 and missed the playoffs for the first time since their Kareem-less expansion season.
On June 16,1975 the Bucks reluctantly granted Kareem's request, sending him to L.A. for Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Elmore Smith. Bridgeman and Winters would eventually see their jerseys hung from the Bradley Center's rafters, but there was no replacing Kareem.