Milwaukee bucks 1980s

Milwaukee bucks 1980s DEFAULT

Larry Bird and Dr. J stood in the way of a potential Bucks' Eastern reign in the 1980s

MILWAUKEE – The Bucks of the 1970s won a title and reached the NBA Finals another time. The Bucks of this era have won the most games of any NBA team in the past three seasons and reached the Finals this season.

But don’t forget those 1980s Bucks who won plenty of games and were a playoff reguar in an Eastern Conference loaded with talented teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and New Jersey.

“Every year there was hope because we had teams good enough to compete, and that’s something special about having teams with a good nucleus every year," Hall of Famer and former Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief said. "You knew we were going to be in the hunt.”

In 12 consecutive years from 1980-91, the Bucks made the playoffs, reaching the Eastern Conference finals three times and the conference semifinals six times.

Moncrief starred on most of those teams along with Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, Bob Lanier, Terry Cummings, Paul Pressey, Ricky Pierce and Jack Sikma.

Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief and the Bucks were eliminated by Larry Bird (left), Kevin McHale and the Boston Celtics in five games in the 1986 Eastern Conference finals.

Those Bucks teams had a decade’s worth of success but never broke through to the Finals, running into those great Celtics, Pistons and 76ers teams of the 1980s. Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia four times – once in the conference finals – and lost to Boston three times, including twice in the conference finals.

“The fans stood out the most,” Moncrief said, “because they watched us break their hearts and watched our hearts be broken.”

Moncrief, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019, was a five-time All-NBA selection, five-time All-Star, two-time defensive player of the year and five-time All-Defense selection.

“Quite frankly, I would rather not be guarding some of the best players in the NBA because it’s a tough task,” Moncrief said. “I just took it as a responsibility as much as it was a challenge. That was something I needed to do to help the team win games. I’d rather just chill on defense and get back on offense, but I didn’t have that luxury."

During the best stretch of his career, Moncrief averaged at least 20 points in four consecutive seasons, and in 1984-85, he averaged 21.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals.

BUILT TO LAST:NBA Finals: With a methodical process, Bucks GM built roster to compete year after year

LOOKING BACK:Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joined Bucks on a coin flip, then helped them win their first NBA title

“What I do remember is just balling out every night,” he said. “You wanted that level of play to be the best. When you do that, the stats you don’t pay much attention to. You know you’ll have results but my main focus was being prepared with the scouting report, who I was guarding and their tendencies, and our rotations on defense. I studied, comprehended and executed when I got on the court on the defensive end.

“I played for great coach in Don Nelson and later Del Harris and they gave me offensive freedom to express my talents. I was a slasher, driver, post-up player and they didn’t try to put me in a box. They said 'We’re going to run sets to take advantage of your strengths on the offensive end.' ”

Moncrief and Johnson were in attendance for Game 3, and Moncrief also attended Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals.

“It’s great to see them regroup, refocus and add a piece here and there,” he said. “They’re a fun team to watch and have been very resilient and showed a lot of grit throughout the entire year.”

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

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Welcome back to “What If...” a series that will see me cover and go through notable Milwaukee Bucks moments and wonder, what if the opposite happened? Most of these will reverse painful moments in Milwaukee Bucks history, but sometimes the “what if” takes away the good and leaves us with a darker timeline. But first, a quick note to explain my logic: the future is entirely fictional and is rarely based on statistics, facts or reason.

This article will also be a collaboration with SB Nation “Best Teams to Never Win a Championship” tournament just to pile on the misery, as the 1985-86 Bucks were an entry in the “Not Good Enough” region.

How this works

The suspension of the NBA due to the COVID-19 pandemic has many Bucks fans feeling like they were robbed of a special season, Milwaukee was on pace to improve on their breakthrough 60-win season the year prior. The reason there was so much disappointment is that for many Bucks fans, this was the best stretch of basketball the franchise has shown in their lifetime. For others though, that claim goes to the Don Nelson-led Bucks in the 80’s. The team consistently won their division and finished in the top two of the Eastern Conference but could never seem to get over the hump and make the finals, let alone win it all. Some of those teams were the best teams to never win the title, so what if any of Don Nelson’s Bucks teams broke through?

1976 was the beginning of attempting to rebuild the Milwaukee Bucks. The team was in its second season without franchise icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; who had forced his way out of Milwaukee to land with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bucks also lost head coach Larry Costello, who surprisingly resigned after struggling to start the 1976-77 season. This move allowed for assistant coach Don Nelson to take over the Milwaukee Bucks and begin the team’s best stretch in franchise history.

With his first full season in charge, Nelson was able to use the draft picks Milwaukee acquired from the Kareem trade to add Kent Benson, who later got punched in the face by Kareem, Ernie Grunfeld, and everybody’s favorite Marques Johnson. Milwaukee improved by 14 games, finishing with a 44-38 record, good enough to finish 6th in the West. Milwaukee truly got all of its pieces in place going into the 1979-80 season by drafting guard Sidney Moncrief and trading the underachieving Kent Benson for veteran center Bob Lanier.

The Bucks entered the 1980s ready to compete for a NBA title. Milwaukee moved to the Eastern Conference and would proceed to win six straight division titles and often finishing 2nd in the East. Despite the success, Milwaukee could never get to the finals, always falling to the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers. Some of the those teams were always behind in terms of talent to the Celtics and 76ers, however Milwaukee did have two teams that could potentially disrupt the duopoly of the Eastern Conference hold.

The first was the 1984-85 team, which won 59 games and had the second best defensive rating in the league, only to lose to the Sixers. The second team is our “best team to never win a title” entry, as the 85-86 Bucks won 57 games and avenged their loss to the Sixers. But, they ultimately were swept by a Celtics team that boasted a phenomenal 40-1 record at home and were intent on redeeming themselves after falling short in the Finals the year prior.

The 85-86 Bucks once again featured one of the best defenses in the league led by Sidney Moncrief; Paul Pressey and Ricky Pierce gave Nelson the guards he needed for Nellie Ball and Terry Cummings lead the frontcourt. The team had the talent, coaching and experience to make the leap but just couldn’t get over the hump. Milwaukee would continue to make the playoffs a few more times, but Don Nelson’s departure after the 1986-87 season combined with the core group of Moncrief, Pressey and Pierce aging would see Milwaukee not make a conference final again until 2001.

Now what if one of those Nelson led teams had made the leap? The 1980-81 team would win Game 7 against the Sixers and Celtics to face Houston in the NBA Finals. Houston’s Cinderella run would not be enough to beat Milwaukee as Marques Johnson impressively outduels Moses Malone while Sidney Moncrief and Junior Bridgeman limit Rudy Tomjanovic and Calvin Murphy to win Milwaukee’s second franchise title. Johnson takes home that Finals MVP.

Johnson still departs the team in 1984 but it is a much more amicable split and his jersey is retired in the 90’s. Milwaukee would fall short in the 84-85 season, but gained some shocking revenge by beating the Celtics in ‘86, setting up another rematch against the Houston Rockets. To counter Houston’s size of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, Milwaukee goes with small ball, but it’s not enough to beat Houston, ultimately losing the series in 6. Despite their disagreements, new owner Herb Kohl sees Nelson’s results and Nellie stays until the end of the 1990-91 season, where the Bradley Center court is named after him. Johnson and Moncrief jump to the 1st and 2nd greatest Bucks of all time with their title and finals appearance, surpassing Kareem at the time, whose departure still leaves a sour taste in Milwaukee fans’ mouths.

So what do you think, is the 1985-86 Milwaukee Bucks one of the best Bucks team to never win a title? Would you have picked a different team from that era? Would one of Don Nelson’s teams breaking through change your perception of the franchise?

There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the best period of Bucks basketball, but what other “What Ifs” do you think should be tackled next?

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Milwaukee Bucks: Forget The 70s, The 1980s Was Milwaukee’s Golden Age

In our latest editorial, Ti Windisch argues that the 1980s was the golden age of Milwaukee Bucks basketball.

Everybody who loves the Milwaukee Bucks loves the fact that the Bucks won a title in 1971. It was the highest peak in franchise history, without a doubt.

But just because the 70s was when the Bucks won their only championship shouldn’t automatically make it the premier decade in Milwaukee Bucks history. Mostly because it wasn’t.

As great as it was when Kareem won the Bucks that title, it completely sucked when he forced his way out of town, which also happened in the 1970s. The early 70s were a time of great success for the Bucks–the rest of the decade was not.

Milwaukee recorded four losing seasons in the 1970s (defined here as from 1969-70 to 1978-79). They recorded zero in the 80s. I’m not actually arguing that the 1970s wasn’t a great part of Bucks history or that it should be remembered less often, just that the 80s deserve more recognition.

The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t have a single season under .500 in the 1980s. The first season qualifying as in the 80s was the 1979-80 season, which featured a Bucks team with young stars like Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and Quinn Buckner.

Some older players were around too, including Junior Bridgeman, Bob Lanier and Brian Winters. That’s a ton of talent, and it showed when just one season later the Bucks won 60 games.

That’s a lower peak than the Bucks team that won 66 games and a title ten years prior, but here’s the difference–the Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s survived losing their star players. They rebuilt instantly.

In the 1986-87 season there was no Marques Johnson, no Buckner, no Lanier and no Winters. Bridgeman played just 34 games and Moncrief played 39. The Bucks still won 50 games and forced a game seven against a Larry Bird-led Celtics team in the second round.

Newer Bucks like Terry Cummings, Ricky Pierce and John Lucas stepped in, and they kept Milwaukee’s NBA stock high.

The 1980s Bucks never missed the playoffs or won less than 42 games in a season, whereas the squads in the 70s missed qualifying for the postseason three different times.

The Bucks won an average of 52.2 games per season in the 1980s, compared to 49.2 wins per season in the 70s. Those early 1970s teams were the best ever in Bucks history, but in terms of consistency no decade can touch the 1980s.

More from Behind the Buck Pass

Milwaukee may have lost out on hosting any championship parades in the 80s, but the city was home to playoff basketball every single year and there was always a strong team with standout players to root for.

Consider this–Milwaukee was in the playoffs for ten out of ten seasons during the 1980s. In the 27 seasons since the 80s ended, the Bucks have made the playoffs 11 times.

Over a third of the Bucks 28 playoff appearances in franchise history happened during the 1980s. Although the era is often overlooked because no rings were won during it, there’s no question it was the best stretch of Bucks basketball to ever happen.

Next: How Dr. J Spurned The Bucks

It’s time to stop overlooking the 80s in favor of the Bucks squads from the early 1970s. There’s room in Milwaukee Bucks history for both eras.

A Brief History of the Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks: Meet the 1980s All-Decade Team

Milwaukee Bucks, Don Nelson

LANDOVER, MD – CIRCA 1985: (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

For our second Milwaukee Bucks All-Decade Team, we run through the six Bucks players who made the biggest impact throughout the 1980s.

The Milwaukee Bucks‘ history is certainly rich with distinctive eras and players that have made transformative impacts on the game of basketball itself.

Earlier this week, we unveiled the first of our five All-Decade teams and filled out our 1970s squad, which was, of course, headlined by some of the greatest players to play for the Bucks like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and so on.

Sure, the heights the Bucks reached in their early beginnings, such as winning an NBA championship in their third season of existence, have set a high bar that they have yet to match subsequently.

Yet, it was during the 1980s when the Bucks built an identity of innovation, hard work and quiet end-to-end dominance under legendary Bucks head coach Don Nelson that still holds relevance to this day, especially in light of where the NBA has gone stylistically since the turn of the millennium.

Of course, Nelson’s presence throughout this team is just as responsible for the resounding success and longevity the Bucks enjoyed for the vast majority of the decade. But Nelson, through his own scouting eye and control over building the Bucks’ foundation, was certainly fortunate to have many talented players that all made their mark during the 1980s, as we’re about to go through.

So without further ado, let’s run through the six players that made the Bucks’ run throughout the 1980s such a memorable one for many reasons.

Next: Guard - Sidney Moncrief


1980s milwaukee bucks

1980–81 Milwaukee Bucks season

1980–81 game log
Total: 60–22 (Home: 34–7; Road: 26–15)

October: 9–2 (Home: 4–1; Road: 5–1)

GameDateTeamScoreHigh pointsHigh reboundsHigh assistsLocation
1October 10, 1980@ PhiladelphiaW 106–103Junior Bridgeman (21) The Spectrum1–0
2October 11, 1980@ New YorkL 109–114Marques Johnson (19) Madison Square Garden1-1
3October 16, 1980BostonL 103–110Marques Johnson (27) MECCA Arena1–2
4October 18, 1980@ ClevelandW 107–105Brian Winters (25) Coliseum at Richfield2-2
5October 19, 1980New JerseyW 105–93Brian Winters (22) MECCA Arena3–2
6October 21, 1980ClevelandW 115–95Marques Johnson (28) MECCA Arena4–2
7October 22, 1980@ IndianaW 119–105Market Square Arena5-2
8October 25, 1980ChicagoW 109–93Marques Johnson (21) MECCA Arena6–2
8October 26, 1980WashingtonW 111–88Marques Johnson (21) Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief (9) Quinn Buckner, Brian Winters (7) MECCA Arena7–2
9October 28, 1980@ ChicagoW 106–99Chicago Stadium8–2
10October 29, 1980@ New JerseyW 132–116Junior Bridgeman (26) Rutgers Athletic Center9–2

November: 9–3 (Home: 2–3; Road: 7–0)

GameDateTeamScoreHigh pointsHigh reboundsHigh assistsLocation
11November 1, 1980@ AtlantaW 99–93Omni Coliseum10–2
12November 2, 1980IndianaW 135–121Marques Johnson (40) MECCA Arena11–2
13November 4, 1980DetroitL 96–98MECCA Arena11–3
14November 7, 1980@ Bostonw 102–101Boston Garden12–3
15November 9, 1980PhiladelphiaL 121–136MECCA Arena12–4
16November 11, 1980@ ClevelandW 100–96Marques Johnson (19) Coliseum at Richfield13–4
17November 12, 1980@ DetroitW 122–98Junior Bridgeman (27) Pontiac Silverdome14–4
18November 14, 1980New YorkW 125–106MECCA Arena15–4
19November 16, 1980ChicagoL 108–114MECCA Arena15–5
20November 18, 1980@ UtahW 126–93Sidney Moncrief (21) Salt Palace16–5
21November 20, 1980@ PortlandW 97–93Mickey Johnson (22) Memorial Coliseum17–5
22November 23, 1980@ Los AngelesW 110–94Marques Johnson (24) The Forum18–5
23November 28, 1980AtlantaW 114–108 OTMECCA Arena19–5
24November 29, 1980@ WashingtonL 89–98Capital Centre19–6
25November 30, 1980BostonW 107–105MECCA Arena20–6

December: 3–1 (Home: 3–0; Road: 0–1)

GameDateTeamScoreHigh pointsHigh reboundsHigh assistsLocation
27December 2, 1980UtahW 119–108MECCA Arena21–6
28December 5, 1980IndianaW 102–100MECCA Arena22–6
29December 6, 1980@ New YorkL 94–104Madison Square Garden22-7
30December 9, 1980@ BostonL 89–112Boston Garden22-8
31December 11, 1980New YorkW 119–107MECCA Arena23-8
32December 13, 1980@ AtlantaL 119–122Omni Coliseum23-9
33December 14, 1980San AntonioW 115–98MECCA Arena24-9
34December 17, 1980@ New JerseyL 112–115Rutgers Athletic Center24-10
35December 18, 1980DetroitW 121–104MECCA Arena25–10
37December 21, 1980HoustonW 123–91MECCA Arena26–11
38December 27, 1980DallasW 112–96MECCA Arena27–11

January: 3–0 (Home: 3–0; Road: 0–0)

February: 1–0 (Home: 0–0; Road: 1–0)

GameDateTeamScoreHigh pointsHigh reboundsHigh assistsLocation
62February 17, 1981@ DallasW 114–106Reunion Arena45–17

March: 0–0 (Home: 0–0; Road: 0–0)

GameDateTeamScoreHigh pointsHigh reboundsHigh assistsLocation
1980–81 schedule
A Brief History of the Milwaukee Bucks

Retired Numbers

Bob Dandridge (1969-70 through 1976-77, 1987-82)

Number retired on Mar. 7 2015

A member of the Bucks’ 1971 Championship team and three-time All-Star in Milwaukee, Bob “The Greyhound” Dandridge will go down among the greatest players to ever don a Bucks uniform, boasting career averages of 18.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in nine seasons with the team.

Dandridge was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 1970, and NBA All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Second Team in 1979, and ranks among the top-10 in 10 major offensive categories in Milwaukee’s franchise history, including minutes (1st, 22,094), points (5th, 11,478), rebounds (2nd, 4,497), assists (8th, 1,956), scoring average (10th, 18.6 ppg), games played (3rd, 618), field goals made (2nd, 4,826), field goals attempted (3rd, 9,901) and free throws made (6th, 1,826). After winning his first championship as a Buck, Dandridge went on to win a second as a member of the Washington Bullets in 1978, and was elected to a total of four All-Star Games in his career. His #10 was retired on March 7, 2015.


Now discussing:

Nadia asked: how are you going to treat me after that. I immediately hastened to assure her that nothing would change, that I would love and want her even more, and so on and so forth. Anything just to develop this topic further in general. To which she replied: well, since you want it and nothing will change in our relationship, I agree, you can try. And she began to suck me.

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