Friday, April 30, 2021

How Long It's Been: Milwaukee Won a World Championship

April 30, 1971, 50 years ago: The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Baltimore Bullets, 118-106, at the Baltimore Civic Center, to complete a 4-game sweep, and win the NBA Championship.

The Bullets had 3 future members of the Basketball Hall of Fame: Forwards Wes Unseld and Gus Johnson, the latter being one of the NBA's earliest dunk artists; and guard Earl Monroe. "Earl the Pearl" was a sensational player. Walt Frazier of the Knicks was then his only competitor for the title of the NBA's flashiest player, and said, "I dreamt about a lot of women, but Earl Monroe was the only man I dreamt about." A year later, trying to regain the title they won in 1970, the Knicks traded for Monroe, paired him in the backcourt with Frazier, reached the Finals in 1972, and won the title in 1973.

But the Bucks, in only their 3rd season as an NBA expansion team, were also loaded. They had one of the greatest all-around players in basketball history, guard Oscar Robertson. And now, the Big O had been joined by the greatest player in college basketball history, center Lew Alcindor -- who, a year later, would announce his conversion to Islam, and the change of his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Oscar and Kareem would be named to the Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. As the league's 75th Anniversary arrives later this year, each is arguably still 1 of the 10 best players in NBA history.

Robertson (1), Abdul-Jabbar (33), forward Bob Dandridge (10) and guard Jon McGlocklin (14) would all eventually have their uniform numbers retired by the Bucks. Guard Lucius Allen (7) and forward Bob Boozer (20) had been All-Stars. Larry Costello, who had played on the Philadelphia 76ers team that won the 1967 NBA title, coached them to a 66-16 record. So while the Bullets were really good, this was not an upset.

The Bucks would reach the NBA Finals again in 1974, and lose a tough 7-game series to the Boston Celtics. Oscar retired after that Game 7. After another season, Kareem demanded a trade, to either his hometown of New York, or to Los Angeles, where he'd starred at UCLA. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and helped them win 5 titles.

The Bucks have won Division titles in 1972, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 2001, 2019 and 2020; and reached the Conference Finals in 1972, 1983, 1984, 1986, 2001 and 2019. But they have never reached the NBA Finals since 1974 -- although, at this writing, they stand to be the 3rd seed in the 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs. This may be their best chance since 1974.

But they haven't won an NBA Championship since 1971. In fact, no Milwaukee-based team has won a major league World Championship since then. The city has never had an NHL team, nor an MLS team. Nor did it have one in the ABA, the WHA or the NASL. The Milwaukee Braves won the 1957 World Series, but moved to Atlanta in 1966. The Milwaukee Brewers debuted in 1970, but have won only 1 Pennant, in 1982, and lost the World Series.

And while the Green Bay Packers used to play some "home" games in Milwaukee from 1933 to 1994, they don't count as a Milwaukee team, so their 13 NFL Championships can't be included. Milwaukee hasn't had a professional football team since the Milwaukee Chiefs of the 1940-41 version of the American Football League.

So the last Milwaukee title remains that of the Bucks, won on April 30, 1971. That's exactly 50 years, half a century. How long has that been?

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The 1970-71 season was the 1st in the NBA for 3 teams: The Portland Trail Blazers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Buffalo Braves. The Braves have moved twice: They became the San Diego Clippers in 1978, and the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984.

Of the NBA's 17 franchises, 7 -- the Blazers, the Cavs, the Braves, the Bucks, the Phoenix Suns, the Seattle SuperSonics, and the Chicago Bulls -- had begun play no more than 5 years earlier. In addition to the Braves: The San Francisco Warriors moved across San Francisco Bay to Oakland before the next season, changed their name to the Golden State Warriors, and kept that name despite moving back to San Francisco in 2019; the San Diego Rockets moved to Houston before the next season; the Cincinnati Royals became the Kansas City Kings in 1972 and the Sacramento Kings in 1984; the Bullets moved to the D.C. area for 1973, taking the name Capital Bullets for a season before taking the name Washington Bullets in 1974, and becoming the Washington Wizards in 1997; and the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.

The New York Knicks had moved into "the new Madison Square Garden Center" 3 years earlier. Not only has that version of The Garden now outlasted each of the 3 that came before it, but it is, by far, the oldest arena currently in use in the NBA, and the only one that was in use in both 1971 and 2021.

The home arenas of both 1971 finalists still stand. The Bucks played at the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center and Arena, usually shortened to "The Milwaukee Arena" or, due to its initials, "The MECCA." It opened in 1950. They moved across the street to the Bradley Center in 1988, and across another street to the Fiserv Forum in 2019.

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee still plays their home games at the MECCA (officially, now the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena), but the Bucks (except for a regular season game celebrating their 50th Season in 2017), the basketball team at Marquette University, and minor-league hockey's Milwaukee Admirals have moved to each new arena in turn.

The Baltimore Civic Center opened in 1962, and was home to the Bullets from 1963 to 1973. It is now named the Royal Farms Arena, for a convenience store chain native to Maryland. Both it and the MECCA seat about 11,000 people, and while Baltimore would like to attract a new (or moved) NBA team, they will have to build a replacement, as there is no way to expand the older arena.

Several other arenas in use in the 1970-71 season still stand: The Suns' original home, the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum; the building the Lakers were then using, the Forum in suburban Inglewood; the building the Warriors were then using, the Cow Palace in suburban Daly City; the building the Blazers were then using, the Portland Memorial Coliseum; the building the Rockets were then using, the San Diego Sports Arena, now known as the Pechanga Arena; and the building the Detroit Pistons were then using, Cobo Hall, now known as the TCF Center.

The American Basketball Association was in its 4th season of play, and their title would be won by the Utah Stars, who defeated the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels in 7 games. Despite some strong seasons by the NBA's Utah Jazz, the '71 Stars remain the only Utah-based major league sports team to go as far as they were allowed to -- if, that is, you consider the ABA to be "major league," and not Major League Soccer, whose MLS Cup was won by Real Salt Lake in 2009.

Of the 11 franchises then in the ABA, only 4 survive today, having been absorbed into the NBA in 1976. But only 1 of them is still using the same name, the Indiana Pacers. They had won the title in 1970, and would win it again in 1972 and 1973. The Denver Rockets survive, but became the Denver Nuggets in 1974. The New York Nets, based on Long Island, won the ABA title in 1974 and 1976, became the New Jersey Nets in 1977 and the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. And the Dallas Chaparrals became the San Antonio Spurs in 1976.

None of those teams is using the same arena. But 8 of the 1970-71 ABA arenas still stand: The Pacers' Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, the Rockets' Denver Auditorium, the Chaparrals' Moody Coliseum, the Colonels' Freedom Hall, the Virginia Squires' Norfolk Scope, the Memphis Pros' Mid-South Coliseum, the Carolina Cougars' Charlotte Coliseum (now the Bojangles Coliseum), and the Miami Floridians' Miami Beach Convention Center.

(The Nets' Island Garden and the Stars' Salt Palace have both been demolished and replaced by new buildings with the same name. And the Pittsburgh Condors' Civic Arena is gone.)

Major League Baseball had 24 teams. The National Football League had recently finished its 1st season after the merger with the American Football League, with 26 teams. The National Hockey League was wrapping up a season with 14 teams, including the expansion Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks.

The defending World Champions in each sport were the Knicks in basketball, the Baltimore Orioles in baseball, the Baltimore Colts in football, and, in hockey, the Montreal Canadiens were 18 days away from completing their dethroning of the Boston Bruins, whom they'd already beaten in what is -- rather unfairly -- considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Frazier.

Pete Maravich and Dave Cowens were pro rookies that season. Julius Erving and Bill Walton were in college. Moses Malone was in high school. Bernard King and Larry Bird were in junior high school. Magic Johnson was 11 years old. Isiah Thomas turned 10 that very day, and Dennis Rodman was about to turn 10.

John Stockton was 9. Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were 8. Karl Malone (no relation to Moses) was 7. David Robinson and Scottie Pippen were 5. Dikembe Mutombo was 4. Gary Payton was 2. Christian Laettner was a year and a half old. Alonzo Mourning was 1. Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant weren't born yet.

Tom Thibodeau, now the head coach of the Knicks, was 13. Lindy Ruff of the Devils was 11. Barry Trotz of the Islanders was 9. David Quinn of the Rangers was 4. Aaron Boone of the Yankees, Steve Nash of the Nets, Ronny Deila of NYCFC, Gerhard Struber of the Red Bulls, Robert Saleh of the Jets, Luis Roas of the Mets, Joe Judge of the Giants, and Walt Hopkins of the Liberty weren't born yet.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times; Canada 3 times; twice each in Japan, Russia, Korea; and once each in Germany, Austria, Bosnia, France, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Brazil. The World Cup has since been held in Germany twice, and once each in America, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Brazil and Russia.

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, was a few weeks away from being ratified. The EPA and OSHA were new. Title IX hadn't yet happened. Abortion was legal in a few States, including New York, but Roe v. Wade was nearly 2 years away. Amy Coney Barrett, the newest Justice on the Supreme Court, wasn't born yet.

The gay rights movement was in its infancy. The idea that people of the same gender could marry each other, and have the legal protections of marriage, was ridiculous -- but so was the idea that corporations were "people," and entitled to the rights thereof.

The President of the United States was Richard Nixon. The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller; of New Jersey, William T. Cahill; and of the State that was home to the Bucks, Wisconsin, Patrick Lucey. The Mayor of the City of New York was John Lindsay; and of Milwaukee, Henry Maier.

The current holders of those offices? Joe Biden was in his 1st year in public office, on the New Castle County Council in Delaware. Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy were 13. Bill de Blasio was about to turn 10. Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee were in college.

Former Presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, their wives, and the widows of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy were still alive. Gerald Ford was the House Minority Leader. Jimmy Carter was the Governor of Georgia. Ronald Reagan was the Governor of California. George H.W. Bush was America's Ambassador to the United Nations. Donald Trump was starting out in his father's real estate company. Bill Clinton was at Yale Law School, where he was about to meet Hillary Rodham. George W. Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard. (Sort of.) Barack Obama was 9 years old.

There were still living veterans of the Indian Wars and the Northwest Rebellion. Peter Mills, the last American known to have been born into slavery, was still alive. Norman Borlaug, leader of what was being called the food production revolution, was the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pope was Paul VI. The current Pope, Francis, then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was teaching at a seminary in his native Argentina.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, and of Britain, Edward Heath. The monarch of both nations was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. Arsenal of North London was 3 days away from dethroning Everton of Liverpool as Champions of England's Football League, and 8 days away from dethroning Chelsea of West London as holders of the FA Cup. There have since been 10 Presidents of the United States, 10 Presidents of the United States, and 5 Popes.

Major novels of 1971 included The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines, Being There by Jerzy Kosinski, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese, and The Winds of War by Herman Wouk.

Under his pen name Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel published his environmental allegory The Lorax. Books that were edgy about sex were still very much in, including Joan Garrity's The Sensuous Woman and Xaviera Hollander's The Happy Hooker: My Own Story.

J.R.R. Tolkein was still alive. Stephen King was a newlywed, and had yet to publish a novel. George R.R. Martin was about to get his master's degree from Northwestern University. J.K. Rowling was 5 years old.

Major films of the Spring of 1971 included Summer of '42, Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Woody Allen's Bananas, Billy Jack, The Beguiled, They Might Be Giants (inspiring the name of a band), a remake of Wuthering Heights, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Klute, Carnal Knowledge, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Gene Roddenberry was kind of lost after the end of Star Trek, writing and producing the sexploitation film Pretty Maids All In a Row. George Lucas had just premiered his 1st directed film, THX 1138. Steven Spielberg's 1st, Duel, would premiere on ABC on November 13. Sean Connery had just wrapped up his last official James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. Jon Pertwee was playing The Doctor. George Reeves, dead for 12 years, was still the last live-action Superman, while Adam West was still a recent Batman.

All in the Family had recently debuted. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Soul Train and the PBS kids' show The Electric Company were on their way. CBS had just done its "Rural Purge," ending The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and Green Acres. ABC followed with The Johnny Cash Show. Also recently canceled were Family Affair, Julia, Hogan's Heroes, Dark Shadows and The Ed Sullivan Show. In the latter case, they had to: Ed was slipping into dementia, and died in 1974.

Robert Kardashian was early in his law practice. Bruce Jenner had just graduated from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. Kris Houghton was in high school. None of them were famous yet, and, as far as I know, none of them knew each other.

No one had yet heard of John Shaft, Kwai Chang Caine, Fred Sanford, Leatherface, Arthur Fonzarelli, Barney Miller, Lestat de Lioncourt, Rocky Balboa or J.R. Ewing.

The Number 1 song in America was "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. The Rolling Stones released their album Sticky Fingers, they introduced their lips-and-tongue logo, and lead singer Mick Jagger married model Bianca de Macias. John Denver released "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Stevie Wonder "If You Really Love Me," Jerry Reed "When You're Hot, You're Hot," Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story, Johnny Cash The Man In Black, Paul McCartney Ram, Ringo Starr "It Don't Come Easy," and Elvis Presley Love Letters from Elvis. The Carpenters and The Doobie Brothers each released their self-titled debut album. 

The Temptations released "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," and Eddie Kendricks left the group. The Doors released L.A. Woman. Within weeks, lead singer Jim Morrison was dead. The 1st Glastonbury Festival was held, and promoter Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East in New York and the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Don McLean first performed his song "American Pie," and referenced the closings in the last verse: "I went down to the sacred store, where I'd heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn't play."

Inflation was such that what $1.00 bought then, $6.49 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp cost 8 cents, and a New York Subway ride 30 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 33 cents, a cup of coffee 46 cents, a McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $1.26, a movie ticket $1.65, a new car $3,742, and a new house $28,600. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed that Friday at 941.75.

The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building in New York, but the World Trade Center in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago were both under construction, and would surpass it. Mobile telephones were still in development.

There were no home video game systems. Computers could still take up an entire wall. Steve Jobs was 16 years old, and Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were about to be. Apollo 14 had landed on the Moon 3 months earlier. Automatic teller machines were still a relatively new thing, and many people had never seen one. There were heart transplants, liver transplants and lung transplants, and artificial kidneys, but no artificial hearts. There were birth control pills, but no Viagra.

During the Spring of 1971, there was a military coup in Argentina. East Pakistan declared its independence, becoming Bangladesh, and suffering a war, a famine and a cyclone, which led to the charity concert at Madison Square Garden, hosted by former Beatle George Harrison.

An earthquake killed over 1,000 people in Turkey. A plane crash in Rijeka, Yugolsavia killed 78 people, mostly British tourists. Neville Bonner became the 1st Indigenous Australian to sit in his country's Parliament. And the Montreal Canadiens overcame internal strife, made worse by recent Quebec separatist terrorism, to win the Stanley Cup.

In America, on the day of the decisive North London Derby, the largest antiwar demonstration in the nation's history, 750,000 people, hit Washington; and President Nixon ordered Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, named in memory of a former political rival, to be used as a giant holding center for arrestees, who numbered over 12,000 -- about 1 out of every 62 demonstrators.

Lieutenant William Calley was convicted in the My Lai Massacre. Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and Federal Express were founded. The Supreme Court ruled that busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. President Richard Nixon declared the War On Drugs. And the day after the Bucks won the NBA Championship, Amtrak officially took over America's passenger rail service.

Thomas Dewey, and Igor Stravinsky, and Ogden Nash died. Ewan McGregor, and Selena Quintanilla, and David Tennant were born. So were legendary athletes Pavel Bure and Picabo Street.

April 30, 1971. The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship. No Milwaukee team has won a World Championship since.

Will it happen again? The only current teams that can make it happen are the Bucks and the Brewers. The Bucks look like they'll have a good Playoff seed, while the Brewers are currently in 1st place in the National League Central Division. The potential for ending a half-century's drought is there. Stay tuned.

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