Editor’s Note: The modern era of the NBA is generally accepted to have begun with the 1979-80 season, the advent of the 3-point line in the NBA. The lists to follow—one for each of the NBA’s 30 teams—will only consider seasons since 1979-80. We continue the series today with the best of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Milwaukee Bucks entered the NBA as an expansion team, along with the Phoenix Suns, in 1968 and the franchise’s fate took a rapid upward turn thanks to some good luck.
The Bucks won a coin flip with the Suns for the first pick in the 1969 draft and took UCLA sensation Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Milwaukee’s win total increased from 27 in its inaugural season to 56 with Alcindor in tow and the Bucks reached the Eastern Division Finals.
In 1970-71, the Bucks traded for Cincinnati Royals superstar Oscar Robertson, won 66 games and the franchise’s first—and only—NBA title.
The Bucks returned to the Finals in 1974, but lost in Game 7 to the Boston Celtics and have not been back since.
Things changed dramatically in 1975 when Abdul-Jabbar pushed for and was granted a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Bucks missed the playoffs for just the second time in 1976-77, the year new coach Don Nelson replaced the franchise’s first head coach, Larry Costello, and Nelson had the team back in the playoffs the very next season.
In 1979-80, Milwaukee won its division—the first of seven straight division titles for the Bucks—but the 1980s were a tantalizing yet frustrating era for the Bucks, who won at least 50 games every year from 1980-81 through 1986-87, but only reached the conference finals twice and never got to the Finals.
They happened to share the Eastern Conference with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, who between the two made the NBA Finals each year from 1980-87.
Since Nelson left after the 1986-87 season, times have been difficult in Milwaukee. The Bucks have won 50 games just once and have advanced past the first round of the playoffs only twice, including a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, the last year they won a postseason round.
Since 2001, the Bucks have made the postseason five times despite posting winning records just twice.
The franchise hit rock bottom in 2013-14 with a club-record worst 15-67 mark.
The Bucks have had 13 coaches in their existence, seven since 2003. The winningest coach in franchise history is Nelson, who was 540-344 in parts of 11 seasons. Costello was 410-264 in parts of nine seasons on the Bucks’ bench.
Nelson also served as the team’s general manager from April 1977 through May 1987, the longest tenure in club history. John Hammond is the team’s 10th personnel decision maker and has been in place since April 2008.
And here are the best players, by position, for the Milwaukee Bucks in the modern era, beginning in 1979-80. Players had to have played 200 games for the franchise and averaged 25 minutes per game.