The Milwaukee Bucks fanbase is at a level it’s never been before. Due to the two NBA titles, 50 years apart. Mixed in with the myriad of maybes in Milwaukee. Along with the numerous seasons ending with what if? Resulted in a fandom that now spans generations. From the diehards that were always here to the young Bucks that have just joined our herd. However you want to cheer, it makes you a Deer.
The Bucks just finished their 54th season as a franchise. Even if this past season didn’t meet hopes and expectations. The fanbase continues to grow in numbers and passion. They won titles in their 3rd and 53rd seasons as a franchise. In addition, they’ve had Hall of Famers, exciting seasons, improbable playoff runs, and a plethora of fan favorites. For these reasons, we are going to be taking a look back at key moments and players in the history of the Bucks franchise.
Ray Allen becomes a Buck
First and foremost, the Bucks didn’t even pick Ray Allen on draft day. However, they knew about the Timberwolves desperation to get Stephon Marbury and exploited it. NBA Draft day 1996, the Bucks had the 4th pick and the Timberwolves the 5th. Before the draft, it was decided between the two organizations; that if Marbury was available at pick four the Bucks would select him and trade him. Resulting in Ray Allen and a 1998 first rounder coming to the Bucks in the exchange.
During his rookie season, Allen was the third option behind “Big Dog” Glenn Robinson and Vin Baker. Even so, Allen was able to play himself onto the All-NBA Rookie Second Team. The Bucks rookie averaged 13 points a game, nearly shot 40% from 3, and even competed the the Slam Dunk contest. It was safe to say that the Bucks knew they had a blossoming star. Director Spike Lee also noticed Ray’s talents. In the summer after his rookie season, Allen played Jesus Shuttlesworth in Lee’s He Got Game. He carries that moniker till this day.
Following his rookie campaign, the Bucks traded Baker to Seattle for Tyrone Hill and Terrell Brandon. Baker, a 3-time All-Star for the Bucks had never led them to a playoff appearance. Luckily, the Bucks added two solid role players and watched Allen bloom. He started all 82 games that season for the Bucks and averaged 19 points a contest. He started the season with a bang, making six 3s in the opener. Then in the season finale he showed off with a 40 point 10 rebound double-double. Allen left it all on the court his sophomore season. But, it was not enough for the Bucks to make the playoffs and HC Chris Ford was relieved of his duties.
George Karl comes to Town
Weird and wild, that’s how I would describe the 1998-99 NBA season. Due to labor issues, the season didn’t start until February 5th. In the only season ever shortened due to labor disputes, teams only played 50 games. Before the season the Bucks brought in proven HC George Karl and free agents Dell Curry and Vinny Del Negro. In the draft, Bucks selected the unproven international sensation, Dirk Nowitzki. Furthermore, this pick had pre-draft negotiations, just like the Allen-Marbury scenario. However, the Bucks were on the short end of this deal receiving Robert “Tractor” Traylor. (May he Rest in Peace) Within the season, they moved Tyrone Hill, Terrell Brandon, and Elliott Perry; receiving Sam Cassell, Chris Gatling, Tim Thomas, Scotty Williams and signing Haywoode Workman as a FA.
Besides hindsight being a bastard in that draft deal. Allen, Karl, and the Bucks were on their way to becoming worthy adversaries. Throughout the season, Allen gave us glimpses of why he should be the number one option. He was no longer going to be second fiddle to the Big Dog. As a consequence of coaching changes, roster tuning, and player development the Bucks snapped a 7 year playoff drought. Despite the improvements, the Bucks were swept in the first round by Reggie Miller and second seeded Pacers. Allen averaged 23 pts 7.3 reb 4.3 ast and a stl per game in the playoffs.
Without a doubt, heading into the 1999-2000 season the Bucks were actually expected to perform well. Allen had signed a 6 year – 71 million dollar extension with the Bucks. Thus, making it the most lucrative deal in Bucks franchise history. With a healthy PG in Sam Cassell and a 1-2 scoring punch of Allen and Robinson, the playoff aspirations were real. Although, the season was filled with ups and downs. There were many highlights to the season. Allen and Robinson were both selected to the 2000 All-Star Game. With a 32-37 record in late March, Bucks fans started losing playoff hopes. Yet, Allen and the Bucks won 10 of their last 13 games. That hot streak helped them steal the 8th seed from Doc Rivers and the Orlando Magic.
Unquestionably, the Bucks were expected to be swept by the Pacers in the first round again. But, this was not the case. The Bucks came to play. In Game 1 Allen led all scorers with 26 points. But it was Tim Thomas who missed the potential game tying 3 with 2 seconds left. Game 2 was dominated by Bucks, Allen had 20 and the bench provided 44 points. Unfortunately, in game 3 the Bucks played an abysmal second half squandering a half time lead. Down 2-1, facing elimination (5 game series in round 1 back then) Allen scored 20 again and the bench scored 45. Now, the series was tied 2-2 heading back to Indiana. In an absolute dog fight, Reggie Miller dropped 41 and sent the Bucks back to Milwaukee. Allen got a last shot off from 31 feet.
Watch the highlights to game 5 below. (Lots of tough calls and so many what ifs in this game.)
Bucks Go On a Run
Clearly, the 2000-01 season is one Bucks fans will always look back at. In this season the diehard fans really started to believe and new fans started to jump aboard. For the most part the Bucks were running it back from the previous season. They only made a few minor free agent moves that off season. After a cold start to the season, the bucks started lighting it up. Allen was averaging 22 points a game and a career high (at that time) 43% from 3. The Bucks had the third rated offense that season. By the All-Star Break they were 29-18. Once again, Allen and Robinson were selected for the All-Star game. Allen participated and won the 3 point contest that season.
Round 1 Orlando Magic
Above all, the Bucks went on to win the Central Division for the first time in 15 seasons. At 52-30 the Bucks were the number two seed heading into the playoffs. Allen averaged 24.5 points a game in the first round. Easily, they dispatched Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic in 4 games (3-1). Allen was definitely the star of that series, but was given plenty of support from Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, and Scotty Williams. Because of this, there was excitement around the organization for the first time since the mid 80s.
Conference Semi-Finals Charlotte Hornets
Next, they took on the 6th seeded Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets had just upset third seeded Miami Heat. Allen led all scorers in the first two games of the series. The Bucks were up 2-0. They were in Charlotte for games 3 and 4. Bucks offensive efficiency was disrupted by the Hornets team D. Hoping to bounce back in game 5 back in Milwaukee. The Bucks had their worst shooting night of the series. During the 3 game losing skid, Hornet’s Jamal Mashburn averaged 30.3 a game. Suddenly, Allen and his Bucks were facing elimination down 3-2. Game 6 was all about the Bucks big 3. They scored 85 of the teams 104 points. Cassell recorded a 33 point 11 assist double double.
Admittedly, heading into this game 7 Bucks fans were nervous wrecks. Second year guard Baron Davis had exploded onto the scene for the Hornets. Jamal Mashburn turned back time and was an absolute Bucket getter. even though the Bradley Center was rocking, Bucks were down 47-44 at half. Bucks fans were depending on their Big 3 to deliver. Allen and Robinson delivered. They combined for a total of 57 points, 35 in the second half. Pair that with Cassells 13 assists and the Hornets offense just couldn’t hang. The Bucks were on their way to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1986. Watch Ray Ray’s and Big Dog’s Game 7 Highlights.
Eastern Conference Finals Philadelphia 76ers
Bucks fans really started believing in this team heading into the ECF. The hype was real. At that point in my life, I had never experienced so much excitement around this team. Similarly, both teams had won their first round series 3-1 and their second round series in 7 games. The 76ers had dispatched the Pacers as well as Vince Carter’s Raptors. Additionally, the Bucks 76ers regular season series was a 2-2 draw. Therefore, this series was shaping up to be the best of that years playoffs.
Games 1 & 2
Game 1 was a battle from the get go. But, it was highlighted by a 16 point advantage for the 76ers in the second quarter. Even so, the Bucks were able to get within two points with two minutes left in the game. Dikembe Mutumbo ripped down a couple of big rebounds and Allen Iverson hit a couple of big shots and the Bucks dropped the game by 8. Ray Allen scored a career playoff high with 31. After Iverson scored 34 in game 1, the Bucks made some defensive adjustments in game 2. Allen and the Bucks came out the gates blazing. This time the Bucks outscored the 76ers by 16 in the 1st quarter. Allen hit another career playoff high with 38 on 7 of 11 shooting from 3. Now, the series was tied 1-1.
Games 3 & 4
Game 3 is where this series became even more intriguing. Iverson didn’t leave the teams hotel, stating he needed to rest a sore hip. 76ers played incredible team D that night. However, without Iverson guarding him, Cassell scored his series high of 24 to lead the Bucks. We couldn’t believe it. The Bucks had a 2-1 lead in the ECF. In Iverson’s return for Game 4, the officiating took a drastic turn. Unfortunately, the 76ers shot twice as many FTs in Game 4. Also, late in the fourth, down by 5, Glenn Robinson was clearly fouled. The no-call led to a 76ers fast break bucket. In a must win game for the 6ers, Iverson performed poorly, yet they tied the series up 2-2. Allen and the Bucks started criticizing officiating after this game.
Games 5 & 6
By Game 5, conspiracy theories started floating around the sports world. Glenn Robinson finally shot his first FTs of the series in this game. Allen scored a quiet 20 and tried reasoning with refs on some horrific calls. Free throws and fouls were a big disparity again, in the 6ers favor. As well as that, the Bucks had two flagrant and one technical foul called on them. and The Bucks lost the pivotal Game 5 by one point. Following the game, Allen made his famous remarks, “It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A.” Allen was referring to the potential finals matchups.
In spite of what was going on with the officiating and being down 3-2. We witnessed Ray Allen turn into Jesus and drop 41 points (another career playoff high). Allen versus Iverson (46 pts) in this game, was a pure scorers showdown. In what was a win or go home scenario for the Bucks, Allen shot 9 of 13 from 3. Bucks won a thriller. In 2001, making nine 3s in a game was unheard of, let alone shooting 13 of them. With Iverson only shooting 27% at this point in the series, a Game 7 win seemed possible. Moreover, the Bucks defensive strategy was to overplay Iverson to his right, forcing him left. Ray Allen was absolutely in his prime this series. Having already won twice in Philadelphia and stifling NBA MVP Allen Iverson, the Bucks remained hopeful.
Hours before game 7, the conspiracies continued to grow. Scotty Williams had started every game for the Bucks in this series. In the previous game Williams had been given a flagrant foul. Out of now where, the NBA decided that it should be a flagrant 2 and suspended him for game 7. Scotty was a fan favorite for his defense, hustle and rebounding. Along with Ervin Johnson, Williams was key to keeping Mutumbo off the offensive boards. Unfortunately, after the 1st quarter, Game 7 was never really that close. Allen did what he could with 26 points and 6 assists. However, Mutumbo had a 26 point 19 board double-double. But finally Iverson broke out of his slump and dropped 44 points on 54% shooting effectively stopping the Bucks Run.
The Beginning of the End
For the most part, Bucks fans were eager and optimistic about the 2001-02 season. Only one game away from the NBA Finals the season before, they were looking to make another run. Despite having the same core of players the Bucks went from having a top 3 offense to the 10th ranked offense. Undoubtedly, the killer to this season was their dreadful defense. Even with their top 10 offense they were in the bottom 10 for points allowed. Ray Allen averaged 21.8 pts 4.6 reb 3.9 ast 1.3 stl per game and was selected to his third straight All-Star appearance. Uncharacteristically, Allen missed 13 games after not missing a game his first five seasons.
The Bucks played the hot and cold game in the first half of the season. Even with some tough stretches they were 10 games over .500 at the All-Star break. Bucks offensive chemistry which carried them through the previous season, would vanish for few quarters or games at a time. George Karl seemed more frustrated on the sidelines and the bench mob mojo was MIA. With a 35-25 record on March 6th the Bucks collapse began. Ray and the rest of their Big 3 struggled to close out games. They went 6-16 to finish the season 41-41 finishing 9th and just missing the postseason. Bucks fans were crushed and confused.
Panic Button and Finger Pointing
Sadly, instead of reflecting and fine tuning after the 2001-02 season the Bucks hit the panic button. After eight magical season in Milwaukee, the Bucks traded Glenn Robinson to Atlanta. Ray was no longer part of a Big 3. The Bucks received Toni Kukoc, Leon Smith, and a 2003 1st rounder. The Bucks had been 33-33 in the last 66 games Big Dog had played for them. Bucks fans were saddened, but held onto hope due to their dynamic backcourt of Allen and Cassell.
Considered a transition year for the Bucks. Due to the disheartening break-up of our Big 3. The Bucks were off to a mediocre start in the 2002-03 season. Once again, they were in a hot and cold season. At 25-23 at the All-Star Break. Allen was averaging nearly identical numbers to the previous season, but was not selected to the All-Star game. However, the Bucks were still in the playoff hunt. The chemistry seemed off the whole season. Decisively, Allen and HC George Karl stopped holding punches. They began publicly blaming and criticizing one another. Instead of moving on from George Karl, owner Herb Kohl let Allen get traded away. The face of the franchise was gone just like that.
It was just before the trade deadline, the Bucks dealt Allen to the Sonics for the worn out Gary Payton and Desmond Mason. This is the worst trade in Bucks history. As a result, the Bucks franchise was haunted by this decision for over a decade. Herb Kohl quotes it as his biggest regret. “I didn’t make the trade, but I let it happen. It became very much of a personality thing and so we traded Ray. In terms of unfortunate moments, that was our most unfortunate moment, letting Ray Allen leave town.”
Bucks Fans Look Back
When we reflect on Allen’s time in Milwaukee, a lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda, remarks are made. Bucks fans were sure of that fact that the NBA tampered with their chances for a Finals appearance in 2001. Maybe Ray was onto something when he made those remarks. For example, the following year, the Kings got a taste of the same in the 2002 WCF against the Lakers. We will never know if the NBA administration was involved in these small vs large market schemes. But what we do know now is that referee Tim Donaghy was involved in the 2001 ECF. Donaghy was caught and arrested in a point shaving scandal. I believe this was the deciding factor in the pivotal Game 5 of the 2001 ECF.
More Importantly, Ray Allen has had a lasting effect on the Bucks organization. Especially the fanbase. Whenever Ray would return in his Sonics, Celtics, or Heat uniform, the Bradley Center welcomed him. Fans continued wearing their Ray Allen Bucks jerseys for years. Besides Michael Redd’s All-Star season in 2003-4. The Bucks went from Allen (2002) to Antetokounmpo (2017) without a real superstar. Allen helped expand Bucks fandom during his time in Milwaukee. In the way that Giannis has made Milwaukee a basketball destination for fans and players. Allen’s chance to create that situation for this sports loving city was cut short.
- Allen is still Number 2 in Bucks franchise history for 3 pointers made.
- If Allen and the Bucks would’ve won that ECF series, They would’ve played the Lakers who they were 2-0 against that season.
- In that 2001 ECF the 76ers finished with an advantage in FTs (186-120), Technical Fouls 12-3, and Flagrant Fouls 5-0.
- 3-time All-Star with the Bucks (10x overall)
- Allen was smooth, sneaky athletic, and humble throughout his 6.5 seasons with Milwaukee.
- Jesus Shuttlesworth will always be welcome in the State of Wisconsin.
Vol. 2 Brandon Jennings and the Bucks in 6 Journey.
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