A couple weeks ago we asked you to vote for the top ten Bucks of all time. The first two nominees were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, 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.
Even the most casual Bucks fan could have probably guessed that the names Kareem and Oscar would lead the way in our vote of all-time Bucks. And considering both guys are Hall of Famers and among the greatest players in NBA history, no one will begrudge them that, especially given that they also spearheaded the 1971 Bucks' championship season.
But what about Sidney Moncrief? Though his name has never had the NBA currency of Kareem and Oscar, Sir Sid was arguably every bit as important to the great Bucks teams of the '80s as Kareem and Oscar were to the Bucks of the '70s.
After an All-American career at Arkansas, Moncrief was selected fifth overall by the Bucks in the 1979 draft. But transitioning to the NBA meant having to earn minutes for an up-and-coming Bucks squad led by fourth year coach Don Nelson. He averaged a modest 8.5 ppg in 20 mpg as a rookie in 79/80, but was a productive rotation player (15.9 PER, .150 win share/48) for a Bucks squad that improved by 11 wins. Moncrief's arrival not coincidentally marked the first of seven straight Midwest Division titles for the Bucks, and his second season saw his stature grow as the Bucks won 60 games before falling in seven games to the 62-win Sixers in the East semis.
Moncrief truly blossomed in his third season, leading the Bucks in scoring (19.8 ppg), rebounding (6.7 rpg) and assists (4.8 apg) while spearheading the NBA's most efficient defense to a 55 win season (yes, Nelly's teams were built on defense back in the day) . Moncrief earned his first all-star berth and was named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive second teams, but again the Bucks lost to Philly in the East semis. It was the third straight season that the Bucks earned a first round bye, but also the third in a row that they failed to win a series.
The Bucks dropped to 51 wins in 82/83, but they still cruised to another Midwest title and finally snapped their playoff jinx with a 4-0 sweep of the 56-win Celtics in the East semis. The eventual champion Sixers ousted them for the third straight season in the East Finals, but by then Moncrief had solidified his status as one of the league's brightest stars.
He posted a team-high 22.5 ppg on exceptional 60.1% true shooting, a byproduct of his unique but highly efficient style. Despite lacking three point range (he made more than 10 threes in a season just three times and topped out at 33 in 1985), Moncrief used his toughness and athleticism to bully opposing guards off the dribble and even in the post, shooting 50.2% for his career with an outstanding 59.1% true shooting mark (28th in NBA history). He earned a second straight trip to the all-star game as well as first-team All-NBA (the last Buck to do so) and All-Defensive team selections. And in a fitting testament to his relentless abilities on the defensive end, he received the first ever NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
Moncrief continued to excel in 83/84, again leading the Bucks in scoring (20.9 ppg) while ranking second in rebounds (6.7 rpg) and assists (4.5 apg). The Bucks won 50 games and defeated the Hawks and Nets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but again fell short in the East Finals, this time in five games against the championship-winning Celtics. Moncrief was again an all-star and second team All-NBA pick, collecting a second straight DPOY for his mantle. To this day he remains the only guard to win the award multiple times and one of just three players under 6'5" to earn the honor (Gary Payton and Alvin Robertson being the others).
Moncrief continued to stuff the box score the following two seasons, but the Bucks' inability to translate regular season wins into a Finals appearance would also continue. The arrival of young PF Terry Cummings (23.6 ppg/9.1 rpg) provided a much-needed scoring complement in the post, while third year SF Paul Pressey's development into a do-it-all point forward (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.8 apg) complemented Moncrief's all-around game in the backcourt (21.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.2 apg). Nelson rode his new triumvirate to 59 wins and the NBA's second best defense, beginning the playoffs with a 3-1 series win over the Chicago Bulls and rookie Michael Jordan in the first round of the playoffs. Moncrief was even better in the postseason with 23 ppg on 56% shooting, but the Sixers yet again sent the Bucks home early in the playoffs with a 4-0 sweep in the East semis.
The 85/86 season would be Moncrief's last in good health, and with predictable results. Moncrief led the Bucks in scoring (20.2 ppg on 60.4% true shooting), finished among the NBA's top five in win shares for the fifth straight season (11.7), and tallied his usual laundry list of honors: a fifth straight all-star game, All-Defensive first team, and second team All-NBA. The Bucks won 57 games and swept the Nets in the first round before exacting revenge on the rival Sixers with a seven game series win that sent them to the East Finals. Sadly, the 67-win Celtics were waiting for them, sweeping Milwaukee in four games en route to another Boston title.
Knee troubles cost Sid half of the following season, and he would never be quite the same following the injury. Though still a productive rotation player, Moncrief missed 26 and 20 games the following two seasons and saw his minutes and productivity drop from its all-star heights. He retired as a Buck at just 31, ranking among the Bucks' all-time leaders in scoring (2nd), assists (2nd), rebounds (4th), and free throws (1st). After a season on the sidelines he grew restless and returned for one forgettable season as a reserve in Atlanta, but Moncrief will forever be remembered as a Buck.
Beloved in Milwaukee and at home in Arkansas, Sir Sid also carved out a successful business career before returning to basketball as an assistant with Nellie in Dallas in 2000. He's since followed Nelson to Golden State as the Warriors' shooting coach, but nowhere is he as appreciated as back home in Arkansas.
The Arkansas Democrat called him "the most beloved athlete in the history of Arkansas [who had] done more for race relations in this state than anyone in the past 20 years."
After Moncrief left the NBA, people in Little Rock started bouncing around his name as a possible gubernatorial candidate. An articulate and intelligent businessman and an immensely popular personality, he seemed a natural for politics. Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, once joked in the Los Angeles Times, "The only comfort I can take in having the smallest governor's salary in the nation is that it might stop Sidney Moncrief from running against me."
Despite all the wins and personal accolades, Moncrief seems destined to remain one of the under-appreciated stars in the game's history. The first and most obvious issue was his longevity. Sir Sid's career was unfortunately struck down by chronic knee problems before he hit 30, and it wasn't until his third season that he blossomed into an all-around star. The Bucks' small-market status as perennial Eastern Conference bridesmaids also didn't help his longer term legacy, which is a shame given how incredibly successful Moncrief and the Bucks were on the court. Indeed, only the Lakers and Celtics won more games in the '80s than the Bucks.
Lastly, Moncrief's raw statistics never quite captured his true impact, a fact that has not surprisingly made it harder for fans who never saw him play to appreciate his contributions. Defensively, Moncrief never blocked even 40 shots in a season and never came close to averaging two steals per game--not exactly the kind of numbers we're used to seeing from the defensive player of the year. Offensively, he was exceptionally efficient, but not quite the flashy volume scorer glorified in shoe commercials. But what may have limited his legacy to casual fans in New York or L.A. only endeared him to his fans in Wisconsin.
"I remember we reflected the city itself," he said. "We worked hard and it's the type of city that when you played for the Bucks, you felt like you were playing for the city. They knew that when we hit this basketball court, Coach Nelson had us ready to perform at our maximum."
They also knew that Philadelphia and Boston were better teams than us when they did beat us. But they never ever turned their back on our ball club. I sensed that every year for the fans was a new opportunity for us not to disappoint them.