Tip-Off Timer: '74 Bucks Last Edition to Reach NBA Finals
The Milwaukee Bucks were once the envy of – and the beacon for -- every expansion team in any professional sport, winning a championship in just the third year of existence. They returned to the NBA Finals in Year 6, losing this time but still making it all look so easy.
That was 1974, the end of their incredible start -- and the beginning of an incredibly long dry spell that continues today. Yes, they have had some success since -- three more trips to the conference finals -- but everything has paled in comparison to the standard they set in those formative years.
That '73-'74 season ended with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in Milwaukee, the final game ever played by the great Oscar Robertson. It was a wonderful Finals that included a double-overtime Game 6 victory by the Bucks in Boston, giving them the momentum they surprisingly failed to sustain back at home.
The Bucks sudden rise and sustained fall was traced directly to the arrival and departure of the veteran Robertson and a young Kareem Abdul Jabbar – drafted No. 1 from UCLA as Lew Alcindor in 1969.
Robertson joined Alcindor before that championship season, providing the perfect compliment to the game's finest big man. They won 66 regular season games together and swept the Washington Bullets in the Finals.
When Robertson retired after the '74 season, the Bucks struggled. Abdul-Jabbar missed the first 16 games with a broken hand – they went 3-13 without their star – and they failed even to reach the playoffs that season.
Shortly after the season ended, the Bucks traded Abdul-Jabbar – at his request – to the Los Angeles Lakers for far inferior talent. Abdul-Jabbar, a recent convert to the Muslim religion, no longer wanted to live in Milwaukee. He gave the Bucks no choice.
He helped the Lakers win five more NBA titles, while the Bucks could only watch wistfully and wonder what might have been. He retired in 1989 with 38,387 points, still the most in NBA history. He reached the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, where he joined Robertson once again.
Robertson remains the last player in NBA history to average a triple-double through the course of a season (1961-62 in Cincinnati.). It wasn't until late in his career, after joining Abdul Jabbar, that he won his first championship and reached the Finals for the second time in '74.
Only once in the last 35 years have the Bucks won more games than the 59 they won in '74. They won 60 in 1980-81, only to lose their first-round playoffs series. With Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar, along with Bobby Dandridge and Lucious Allen, they made history as an expansion team.
But they set a standard that they never could match.