The Milwaukee Bucks closed out the Phoenix Suns to win their first NBA title in 50 years. The title was a long time coming for a franchise who has quietly been one of the better franchises in the NBA, but one who has just not been able to get over the hump and win big games.
The Bucks history started out probably better than any expansion team in sports history. Just 3 years after being introduced to the league the Bucks were hoisting their first NBA title banner. Part of that was due to them hitting pay dirt following their first season.
Like all expansion teams, the Bucks struggled their first season in the NBA going just 27-55. The 27-55 mark is their 4th worst in franchise history. But it allowed them to have a coin flip with the Phoenix Suns for the top pick in the draft, which they won. They were able to take UCLA center Lew Alcindor first overall.
Alcindor would go on to become one of the greatest big men in NBA history, though he would do it under a new name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With Jabbar as their star, the Bucks also added star point guard Oscar Robertson and in 1971 won the NBA title.
The Bucks 1971 title remains one of only 3 NBA titles won by western conference teams, not in the states of California or Texas; the others being Portland’s 1977 title and Seattle’s 1979 title.
The Bucks would continue to be one of the best teams in the NBA. They would make another NBA finals in 1974 but lose in 7 games to the Celtics.
The Bucks would finally experience suffer as Jabbar demanded to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, which the Bucks did. The team struggled for five years only winning 40+ games once and making only two brief playoff appearances. The Playoff appearances were nothing to write home about because other than the Lakers the Western conference was hot garbage at the time.
Things started to change as the 1980s rolled around. The team hired Don Nelson as their head coach and would see their longest stretch of consistent good basketball. The Bucks made the playoffs every season from 1980 until 1991 but continually faulted in the playoffs.
The Bucks were the second-winningest team of the 1980s only behind the Lakers and slightly above the Celtics. Behind Sidney Moncreif, Marques Johnson and Junior Bridgeman the Bucks made the eastern finals in 1983 and 1984. The Bucks also added veteran former stars like Dave Cowens and Tiny Archibald during these runs. The Bucks would make the East Finals again in 1986, but as their stars began to age their success declined.
The Bucks continue to see strong regular-season success behind stars like Paul Pressy, Alvin Robertson, Ricky Pierce and Jack Sikma, but nothing like they had seen the first part of the decade.
Don Nelson left after the 1987 season where the Bucks won 50 games, it would be their last 50 win season until 2001. He was replaced by Del Harris and the Bucks would go into a half decade span of winning 42-49 games every season.
Following the 1991 season, the wheels seem to fall off the Bucks and hit one of their hardest times in franchise history. From 1991 until 2000 the most games won in a season by a Bucks team was 42 in 2000. From 92 until 98 they did not even have a winning record once.
The Bucks tried to rebrand, first by signing aged veterans like Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley, then by draft picks like Vin Baker, Todd Day, and Glenn Robinson.
It was not until 1996 that something positive happened to the Bucks. They made a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the rights to Ray Allen.
Ray Allen would change the fortunes of the Bucks. He quickly became 20 points per game scorer and helped the Bucks win 50 games for the first time since the 1980s in 2001, that same season he helped lead the Bucks to the Eastern Finals.
The 2001 campaign would be an odd anomaly in Bucks history. It was their only eastern finals appearance from 1986 until 2019, and was their only playoffs where they won a playoff series from 1989 until 2019.
2001 was lead by Allen, Robinson, and Sam Cassell and really showed promise. They lost in 7 games to the Sixers and the next season the Bucks were pegged as favorites to win the NBA title. But the 2002 season was an absolute failure as the Bucks managed to win just 41 games and failed to make the playoffs.
The team quickly began to unravel as piece by piece it was broken up. Allen was eventually traded to the Seattle Sonics for Gary Payton.
Unlike the 1990s though, the 2000s would not be as brutal of a time for the Bucks. They would see modest success behind stars like Michael Redd. They frequently made the playoffs and often times would take the series favorite to six or seven games before losing.
In 2005 the Bucks somehow managed to win the NBA draft lottery and get the #1 pick despite finishing the season 41-41. The Bucks drafted Andrew Bogut #1 overall. Bogut while a good player, never lived up to #1 pick hype and the Bucks passed on Chris Paul to select him.
The Bucks fell into NBA mediocrity as the 2010s came along. They were never amongst the best teams or even good teams, but they were never the absolute worst either.
The Bucks unbeknownst to most hit pay-dirt again in the 2013 draft by selecting Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the draft. Antetokounmpo was seen as a project and initially many fans were not happy with the pick.
The bottom seemed to fall out for the Bucks in 2014. Antetokounmpo struggled in his first season in the NBA, third yeard guard Kris Middleton had not yet hit his stride and was more of a young role player than a star. The chaos meant that the Bucks won a franchise-low 15 games that season.
But things started to improve for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo found his stride in his second season and by his 4th season was a budding star and the league’s most improved player. Middleton too found his game and quickly became that second star the Bucks needed.
Season by season the Bucks got better, but the biggest issue seemed to be coaching. The team eventually found the right coach in Mike Budenholtzer, and when they did they became one of the best teams in the NBA.
From 2019 until now the Bucks have seen their best stretch of basketball since the early 1970s. Antetokounmpo has twice been named MVP and has established himself as the best basketball player in the world.
In 2019 the Bucks made their first Eastern finals since 2001 and quickly went up 2-0. But the Bucks playoff failures came back to haunt them as they dropped the next four to eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
The 2020 Bubble once again sees a great regular season ruined by playoff failure. Going into the 2021 season there was a lot of talk that wholesale change would be coming should the Bucks fail to have an impressive post-season run, and it looked like they were once again doomed to failure after falling behind 2-0 to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Bucks thought would come through and win the series in 7, and become the first team in NBA history to win both an eastern conference title and a western conference title when they beat the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bucks once again fell behind 2-0 to the Phoenix Suns, but became the second team ever to come back from two 2-0 deficits in the same playoffs; the Los Angeles Clippers did it twice in 2021 as well.
The Bucks 2021, their first in 50 years, also makes them the first team to win an NBA championship in both the eastern and western conferences. The 50 years between titles is also the most time between two titles in NBA history, surpassing the previous record of 40 years of the Warriors.