Bucks 1980-81 Team Leaders

March 21, 2008
I never remember any new moments anymore. Take the NCAA basketball tournament. Every year I throw myself with abandon (i.e., sit and eat and stare at a television for hours at a time, clutching my disintegrating bracket) into March Madness, especially its first couple days, and every year I almost instantly forget who did what to whom. I sort of remember Vermont upsetting Syracuse a few years ago, but that’s because I grew up in Vermont and because when the final buzzer sounded I leapt up from the couch and bashed my knee on the coffee table, which really hurt. Other than that, it’s all a Mopa-Njila-tinged haze. Yesterday, had Belmont pulled off the upset of Duke, I would have again leapt up from the couch, taking care not to bash my knee on the coffee table, and I would have bounded around my living room shouting and laughing and high-fiving myself. But probably by next year only the vaguest memory would remain. At the very end of this year’s tournament, when CBS plays the song “One Shining Moment” behind a video montage of tournament heroics, it’ll be for me like watching files get moved across a computer screen to the Recycle Bin, where they’ll remain until automated deletion. I’ve got no more room in my brain for Shining Moments. And yet, after all these years, even though I probably never saw them play, I can name eight or nine members of the 1980-81 Milwaukee Bucks without even turning over this card.


  1. 1.  Things that are etched into my memory thanks to baseball cards:

    1) Wade Boggs hit .368 with 240 hits in 1985 (I remember that being so mind boggling in my 1986 Topps set)

    2) Eddie Murray hit .330 (184 for 558) in 1990, the only man to lead the majors in batting average yet not win a batting title (stupid Willie McGee)

    3) Tommie Herr drove in 110 runs despite hitting only 8 HR for the 1985 Cards

    4) Someone wrote “Fuck Face” on the knob of Billy Ripken’s bat on his 1989 Fleer card. Alas, I never got that card.

  2. 2.  Jeez Josh, You’re never going to finish “Play Ball” if you keep featuring basketball cards.

    Or is that the point?

  3. 3.  The Bucks. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

  4. 4.  One of my favorite teams of all-time, as I was a big Sidney Moncrief fan. One of those Michael Thompson, Darrell Griffith-types that predated Jordan.

    That Bucks team also had another favorite player, the great name of Junior Bridgeman, who was part of the Jabbar trade, if I remember right with Brian Winters.

  5. 5.  Off the top of my head, I really only remember two guys who played for the Bucks: Lew Alcindor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

  6. 6.  5 Roger Murdoch also played for the Bucks.

  7. 7.  Josh, let me welcome you to your 40s man.

    4 Yes Winters. And Dave Meyers (Don Drysdale’s brother-in-law) and Elmore Smith. Elmore. Smith. That was his name wasn’t it? You know, the other center in the deal….

  8. 8.  The Bucks actually won it all once. Back in 1971 during their third year of existence they went 66-16 and swept the then Baltimore Bullets in the finals. I had to look this up, so I’m not sure how many people know this.

  9. 9.  Josh, like you, my memory of, well, pretty much everything but baseball, cuts off around 1989. The cards you’re reviewing this week are from MY National Basketball Association. The Bucks of that era were an absolute joy, the perfect testament to trying and failing. Bob Lanier deserved better, but then, don’t we all deserve better…?

  10. 10.  8
    They did have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson on that team. You would hope they could win.

  11. 11.  8 and 10 : Yeah, I knew the Bucks won it all in ’71. Starting five was Robertson, Abdul-Jabbar, former UCLA star Lucius Allen, Bobby Dandridge and Curtis Perry.

    The Bucks that year were terrific under coach Larry Costello. They had a serious rooting interest to face the Knicks in the finals since New York had dispatched the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals the year before 4 games to 1. That playoff result was somewhat overshadowed by the Knicks beating the Lakers in seven games for the championship. After the Knicks beat the Bucks, the conventional wisdom of the match-up between Willis Reed and Abdul-Jabbar was, IMHO, predictable: Kareem was more talented, could score more but it was Reed who knew how to make a team better. It was a criticism that haunted Wilt and Kareem would not hear it for the last time (see Cowens, Dave and Walton, Bill). The following season, the Bucks were sent to the Western Conference. That year, the All-Star game was held in San Diego and starting for the West was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Starting for the East: Willis Reed. To say Kareem was interested in this match-up would be to utter one of the more dramatic understatements in NBA history. As the game got under way, it was clear that, unlike the playoff series the year before, Kareem was benefitting from his all-star power forwards and guards and could focus on stopping Reed. No longer free to roam the high post for his patented 15-17 foot jumpers, Reed scored 14 points and had 13 rebounds but on just 5/16 shooting–a far cry from his All-Star game MVP performance of a year ago. A fired up Abdul-Jabbar had 19 points on 8/16 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds. Up until then, he had never had more fun playing in a professional game and he badly wanted the MVP award but the writers gave it Lenny Wilkins instead. According to his own book “Giant Steps”, when he found out he wasn’t MVP, Kareem thought to himself: “ these guys! I left.” (quote paraphrased).

    All of this is given as backdrop to the NBA Finals of 70-71. The Bucks had easily beaten the Lakers in five games and were awaiting the results of a hard-fought series between the Knicks and the Bullets. Like I said previously, the Bucks had an understandable rooting interest in New York. But the Bullets came out on top in seven very, very hard fought games. They were battered and bruised in a finals match-up where they would’ve been underdogs in the pink of health: the Bucks won their only title under Jabbar in four games.

    They would contend for the finals one more time with Abdul-Jabbar, in the 73-74 season. The Celtics got them in seven games. Again, from Giant Steps: “Richie Powers allowed Cowens to climb my back all series.”

  12. 12.  I’ve been away for a few days. Thanks for all the b-ball comments.

    2 : I’ll get back to baseball soon. As for “Play Ball”: it’s gonna take a while to finish the game. After all, every ’78 card in the archives only got us to the 4th inning. Besides, I’m sort of afraid of something happening to me when I reach the end of the game.

    4 : I liked Moncreif a lot, too, but my favorite was Mickey Johnson (pictured in the card above, the rebounds leader). A really underrated guy who could do it all.

    7 : The guy I recall from the Kareem trade was (the draft rights to) Kent Benson, who Kareem later punched in an early-season or preseason game, fracturing his hand.

    11 : Thanks for that great recap, Suffering Bruin (but how much can you be Suffering right now, what with Kevin Love et al?). Kareem’s words about the ’74 Finals reminds me of my memory of him as the biggest whiner in basketball history. Absolutely incredible player who should be included in best ever discussions more than he is, but man did he bitch and moan.

  13. 13.  More on Kareem: I’ve always felt that if I needed one basket and could choose anyone from history to get it, I’d go with Kareem.

  14. 14.  13 That sky hook was pretty unstoppable.

  15. 15.  12 The Kareem fist / Benson jaw collision was the opening game of the season, which seemed to make it stranger. What a way to start the year.

  16. 16.  13 But it was Magic who hit the baby hook in the lane against the Celtics….

  17. 17.  16 : Arrgh. One of the most painful sportsfan moments of my life.

  18. 18.  12 Much obliged for the thanks, Josh. It’s nice to be on the receiving end of gratitude from one of your favorite writers.

    The Kent Benson incident remains one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Replays of the incident are a little weird. Benson is on the offensive side of the court, Kareem is behind him and that’s it–nobody else is even in the frame; all the action is on the other side of the court.

    Anyway, the replays are clear about what started the fight–Benson elbowed Kareem in the the solar plexus, a cheap shot. Kareem staggered back and got his breath. Benson is seen taking a quick glance behind him and then looks at the other end of the court. He did not see Abdul-Jabbar’s looping right hand. As Benson lay rolling on the floor, Kareem is seen shouting over him.

    IIRC, Kareem wrote that he wanted to kill Benson that night, further stating that he easily could have done so; he was well-schooled in the martial arts. In the rage of the moment, he forgot his training and that doubtlessly saved Benson from further damage.

    I recall that Benson was interviewed about Kareem’s book. He said that he had run into Kareem since the book’s release and the two had a cordial greeting.

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