A Letter to My Bucks Family

Greg Nelson/Sports lllustrated/Getty Images

Dear Bucks fans and players,

It’s been 50 years coming. 

Fifty long years, and it’s down to two games. 

I’ll be honest, it really makes me reflect. When we won back in ’71, it was a big deal. And for me, especially, because it took over 10 years in the league to get to that moment. 

I called my wife. That’s what I remember from that night. 

She’d been with me through it all, since I was drafted in 1960, in fact. And so she’d seen me accept a lot of criticism. You see, I was a star player, 11 times All-NBA. But I didn’t have a championship, so certain people denied me a level of credibility.

Oh, yeah yeah, Oscar Robertson has done this and that, but he hasn’t won anything yet.

That was a negative opinion toward me at the time. 

And if I wanted to change that opinion, I knew what I had to do.

When we had our chance, we didn’t fool around that night. There were no shenanigans and whatnot. If someone made a basket, they didn’t scream like it was the greatest thing in the world. We just didn’t do those things. 

We got down to business. 

We stuck to fundamentals.

And we won a championship for the city of Milwaukee.

Paul Shane/AP Images

There were thousands of people waiting for us when we flew back home. I mean, imagine that? Thousands of people…. I couldn’t even tell you how many thousands. Everybody just cheering and yelling. It was a great sight to see.

I went home, and my neighbors, the Priesters, who were very good neighbors, had put signs up between my house and theirs. Go Bucks! Go Oscar! That sort of thing. It was a tremendous moment. Real nice times.

When I look back on that season, I think about how it was a total team effort. You need a strong starting five — but you also need some help off the bench to be able to win these championships. With us, it wasn’t just a couple of guys. They made the right trades and went out and got us some veteran players. McCoy McLemore, Bob Boozer, Lucius Allen. Add that to our group already in place with Kareem, Dandridge, McGlocklin and myself, and we were tough to beat.

And now, 50 years later, these Bucks are in the same spot we were in.

I’ll tell you….. it’s been a pleasure getting to watch this team.

Giannis is a great athlete. He’s fantastic with the basketball. He’s quick. You know, one stride of his is like two of yours.

They have Holiday in the backcourt. I think that made a big difference for them. He obviously had the pass in Game 5, snatching it away from Booker and the timing of getting it to Giannis. It was a very competitive play.

But it’s not just Giannis and Holiday and Khris Middleton that have to win this, though those boys are great. It’s gonna take Portis Jr. and Connaughton and Brook Lopez also. You have to have those types of players who can step in and get you some buckets. 

You have to play a fundamental, simple basketball game.

That’s how we won it in ’71, and that’s how these Bucks will win it if they just use their heads.

Steve Megargee/AP Images

That’s all it takes.

Forty-eight minutes of good basketball.

And I hope it doesn’t get lost how monumental this is, for the Bucks to even be in this position. It’s very, very difficult, in this day and age, for small franchises to compete. Look at all the guys jumping to Los Angeles, Miami, New York. But you don’t have a lot of talk about players going to smaller markets. You just don’t have that.

Now that Milwaukee has kept Giannis, it’s a great thing for this game.

And I’ll say this. If the “Oscar Robertson Rule” has had anything to do with these players getting what they deserve, I’m happy for it.

Years ago, the owners had all the power. Only owners could initiate trades. Sometimes the player didn’t want to go to certain cities or teams, and they shouldn’t if they don’t wanna go there. But now, LeBron goes to Miami, and comes back to Cleveland, then he goes to the Lakers. Kawhi goes from San Antonio to Toronto to the Clippers. Kevin Garnett went to the Celtics and won a ring.

What I’m getting at, is the players are becoming more on par with the owners as business people — and that’s moving the game forward. It’s helping to make this game what it is today. And I’m so proud of that.

Back in my day, we had no idea that this would be the outcome of all our efforts with the Players Association. We just wanted better conditions for players.

We wanted a better LIFE for basketball players than what we had.

And look around….. what this league has become is bigger than we ever could have imagined.

James Drake/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

This is why I always say that I think every athlete, Black or white, should read about the history of their sports. Who came before me? How did we get here? Those are good questions to ask. It’s good to learn about the game’s pioneers. And what’s interesting is, there are all different kinds of pioneers. I was out front with a lot of others. But several came before me. Several came after me, as well. And I’ll tell you another thing: Several pioneers are playing right now — to make this the great game that it is today, and will be tomorrow.

All that being said, some last words of advice from an old vet:

To the players on this Bucks team….. think about where you are. Really think about it, really savor it. And play hard. I mean, harder than you’ve ever played. Because life goes by. You may not get here again. 

And to Bucks fans….. 50 years is a long time. Believe me, I know. But we’re at the doorstep of history once again.

Let’s bring this home.