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The coin that flipped the Milwaukee Bucks' franchise

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Posted at 5:34 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 19:50:37-04

The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns aren’t known to be rivals, but they do have a unique past.

A coin flip between the two teams more than 50 years ago helped the Bucks draft Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Bucks first season in the NBA netted dismal results. Back then, a coin toss decided who got the number one overall draft pick between the two teams that finished at the bottom of their divisions. The 50/50 chance led to glory in Milwaukee and frustration in Phoenix.


The year was 1969 and the Lew Alcindor sweepstakes was all the buzz leading up to the NBA draft. The 7’2” big man was coming out of college and he was bound to be the first pick in the draft.

“He was maybe the first super, superstar in the NBA," said Bob Kennedy.

Kennedy’s late grandfather, Walter Kennedy, was the NBA’s commissioner at the time, so he had the honor of flipping a coin that would ultimately flip a franchise.

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Walter Kennedy

"Clearly, it was the coin flip heard around the world at the time,” Kennedy said.

Eddie Doucette was the original voice of the Milwaukee Bucks and he recalls the intense moments leading up to the high stakes conference call.

"There was a high state of anxiety obviously because if you win, you go to the throne room, you lose, and you go to the outhouse, in so many words,” Doucette said.

Former Suns’ owner Jerry Colangelo said he called Commissioner Kennedy to ask if they could pick heads or tails. The Bucks agreed and Colangelo left the big decision up to his fanbase.

"51.2 percent of the people who participated said call heads rather than tails,” he said.

"The coin has come up tails,” Commissioner Kennedy announced on the conference call.

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The devastation that could be seen on the faces of the Suns’ owner and head coach was met with cheers of joy on the other end of the line coming from Milwaukee.

"The jubilation that emulated from that room at the time could have been heard all over Wisconsin, not just Milwaukee,” Doucette said. “I think outside of the offices there on Wisconsin Avenue, the businesses around there were just shaking. It's kind of like an earthquake had taken place."

Alcindor would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and brought the Bucks their only NBA championship just two years later.

Kennedy said the coin that made it possible hadn’t seen daylight in decades until late last week. As a Bucks vs. Suns Finals became a reality, Kennedy’s family went looking through his grandfather’s collectibles to find the hidden gem.

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"We kind of rescued from his desk drawer and she opened that thing and sure enough, the first thing on the top was a 1964 Kennedy half-dollar, and right next to that was a Milwaukee Bucks championship ring,” Kennedy said.

The coin helped a Milwaukee team searching for an identity become champions for the world to see.

"There aren't a lot of moments in NBA history that just so blatantly changed the trajectory of the league and of a team, so yeah, it really is amazing,” he said.

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