It’s an incredible story. The Milwaukee Bucks entered the NBA as an expansion team in the 1968-69 season. In no time at all, the team was crowned champions in only its third year of existence with a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets - the fastest championship earned among the major sports. That was 50 years ago this month - April 30, 1971.
A good mix of talent, some shrewd acquisitions, and landing a transcendent star in the draft were the ingredients to this improbable ascension. To honor the landmark anniversary, TMJ4's Lance Allan went down memory lane with the “Original Buck” (Jon McGlocklin), “The Greyhound” (Bob Dandridge), “The Voice” (Eddie Doucette), and "The Franchise (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) for an oral history of how that amazing championship year transpired.
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THE ORIGINAL BUCK - JON MCGLOCKLIN
When Jon McGlocklin was acquired by the Bucks in the 1968 expansion draft, it was his third team in three seasons. After two seasons with the Cincinnati Royals and one with the San Diego Rockets, McGlocklin was hoping to return to the Midwest. He grew up in Indiana, and was a star at Indiana University. It was an immediate fit, and McGlocklin had found a home.
In the franchise’s first year, the sharp-shooting McGlocklin was the team’s second-leading scorer (19.6 points per game) as coach Larry Costello leaned on him and backcourt-mate Flynn Robinson to lead the offensive attack.
The next year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the focus as the Bucks improved from a 27-55 record to 56-26, but McGlocklin scored 17.6 and knew things had changed dramatically for the franchise.
“There aren’t players every single year that you can point to and say ‘he’s going to be a star,’” McGlocklin says. “Kareem, we all knew ‘that’s an NBA star.’”
Already a championship contender, Milwaukee made one more important move in the 1970 off-season when they acquired All-Star point guard Oscar Robertson. The move left no doubt about the Bucks' potential among the players.
“Once we made the trade for Oscar, we knew - the players - this is it. This is our year.' From the day we went to training camp until the day we won it, we knew we were going to win the Championship."
McGlocklin played eight seasons with the Bucks, and despite winning a title in Milwaukee, his greatest impact came after that. When he retired, he teamed up with team broadcaster Eddie Doucette to form the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer). The organization has raised over $70 million since its inception.
After playing here, and serving as a team broadcaster for over 30 seasons, the “Original Buck” still feels the joy of the 1971 championship and the pain of the 1974 loss in the Finals. More than that, he is thankful he was able to turn the often nomadic life of an NBA player, into a city, and a team, he could call home.
“Expansion teams are war zones,” he says. “It’s hand-to-hand combat to win a job. And little did I know that I was going to win a life, in Wisconsin.”
THE GREYHOUND - BOB DANDRIDGE
Bob Dandridge was a fourth-round draft pick from tiny Norfolk State in 1969, the same year Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the first pick in the draft, so it’s understandable that his arrival garnered less fanfare. But Dandridge, a first-team All-Rookie selection, averaged 13.2 points that first year and improved to 18.4 points per game his second year to help the Bucks win their title.
Watch: Highlights from the 1971 NBA Finals
Dandridge, nicknamed “the Greyhound,” has gained an appreciation for what a title means to a fanbase over the years.
“As a 22-year, 23-year old, you’re sort of selfish about a championship,” Dandridge says.
“You don’t really think about the fans, not only in Milwaukee but the fans around the world that cheered for you during that time. It’s just recently I even thought about the millions of people who are affected by his or her favorite team winning a championship and the joy and pleasure those fans feel, not only then but even now.”
Dandridge spent his first eight seasons in Milwaukee, before joining Washington, where he would be a star on another championship team. The four-time All-Star finished his career with one more season in Milwaukee.
Thinking back to that Bucks championship, Dandridge was most struck by witnessing a side of veteran guard Oscar Robertson that he hadn’t seen before.
“The joy and emotions that came out of Oscar Robertson, actually hugging some folks after we won Game 4,” Dandridge recalls. “The 'Big O' was usually stoic and about business and going about his task, but it was like the kid in him came out and he was able to silence his critics. He had achieved all those individual goals but now he had that World Championship.”
THE VOICE - EDDIE DOUCETTE
Eddie Doucette worked in ticketing and marketing for the Bucks before the team ever stepped on the court. But once the games started, he was the team’s broadcaster and his excitable style and unique catchphrases made him a local legend during his 16-year career in Milwaukee.
“It’s over! It’s over! The Milwaukee Bucks are Champions of the World!” was how Doucette described the clinching win in Baltimore. The Hall of Fame broadcaster says he will always remember the instant bond Milwaukee fans felt with the Bucks in those early years.
“People in Wisconsin want to feel like they’re a part of whatever it is you do,” he explains. “And if you give them that opportunity, they’re right there with you to the end.”
Doucette’s only regret from that era is that there’s only one title to talk about.
“Honestly I felt we could have won three championships during that period. We should have won ‘74, and one other one in between, but what a wonderful run.”
Doucette co-founded the MACC Fund with Jon McGlocklin when Doucette’s two-year-old son, Brett, was diagnosed with leukemia, and now resides in California. But he remains forever tied to the Bucks franchise and treasures the talent and camaraderie of that championship team.
“They were truly a great basketball TEAM, made up of some terrific basketball individuals.”
THE FRANCHISE - KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR
He was the top pick in the 1969 NBA Draft. At the time, he was named Lew Alcindor. In six seasons in Milwaukee, he won awards (Rookie of the Year, three-time MVP), piled up impressive numbers (led the league in scoring twice), and adopted the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
He would later say it was a complicated time. He enjoyed the people of Milwaukee, but had trouble fully embracing life in the Midwest.
“I think people made assumptions and I didn’t do anything to correct them,” Abdul-Jabbar said in 1994. “That’s entirely my fault. I wasn’t working hard on being popular, I was just trying to be the best basketball player possible."
“Basically what it came down to was I didn’t like the weather.”
Kareem went on to win three more MVP awards and five more NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, but laments how that 1971 Title with the Bucks gets overlooked in history.
“I think that team’s been forgotten and it was a very dominant team,” he said in a later visit to Milwaukee. “But the fact we lost early the next year, and in Oscar’s last year we lost in the Finals, people just kind of brush past it."
“I probably took it for granted because I’d been so successful at UCLA and winning the World Championship here just seemed natural. It’s been a while, huh?”
OWNING THE PRESENT
While it has now been half a century since the Bucks have tasted a championship, the current 2021 squad certainly has a shot at glory.
Led by back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is in the middle of another historic season, the Bucks are currently the Eastern Conference's third seed, with at least a puncher's chance of advancing to their first NBA Finals since 1974.
Milwaukee's "Big Three" - Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday - certainly carry with them echoes of the Bucks' 1971 squad. But do they have enough to get over the franchise's recent early playoff exits?
Current General Manager Jon Horst believes the team's recent adversity in the playoffs will actually be a benefit when the postseason starts next month.
"I know that the last 2 years, we've been historically great. By far had the best record in the NBA, and we didn't win a championship," Horst says. "This year I don't think we're going to be historically great in the regular season. And we're not going to have the best record in the NBA. I hope we win a championship, I guess we'll find out. But I do think there's some level of you know, confidence that comes with not facing real adversity in terms of winning and losing in the playoffs."
Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure -- Jon McGlocklin, Bob Dandridge, Eddie Doucette, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will all be watching.