When you think of the NBA in the 1980s, odds are the first two franchises you think of are the Celtics and Lakers.
But guess which team had the third-best winning percentage of that decade? Pistons? Bulls? 76ers?
Nope, nope, nope.
The Milwaukee Bucks.
How about that?
“I knew we had the third-best record, but we were not the best team, certainly,” Bucks legend Sidney Moncrief said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We just came at the wrong time. We thought that we had good teams. Won 60 games one year – 57 games, 59 games, 56 games. We had a number of 50-plus-win seasons. But every year, (it was) Celtics one year, 76ers, Celtics, 76ers. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump and make it past the conference finals.”
It wasn’t because of Moncrief, either. In fact, the five-time All-Star and four-time All-Defensive first teamer was one of the most underrated players of his era. He probably would have achieved even more accolades had he not decided to hang it up in his early 30s.
“Nobody wanted me,” the 57-year-old Moncrief joked. “Actually, I was just tired of playing basketball. I was burned out. I had played 10 years – a ton of minutes – and I had gotten cynical. I think any time you get cynical as player and you start thinking more than you’re playing, then it’s time to consider retirement.”
Moncrief played for the Bucks from 1979 to 1990 before waking away from the game. Only he realized he had more to give and played for Atlanta in 1990-91.
“I felt I had something left as far as my performance, so I came back and played one year,” Moncrief said “(After that), it was time . . . to hang it up.”
Almost 25 years later, Moncrief is happy Milwaukee didn’t hang it up on the Bucks. Milwaukee was in danger of losing the franchise, but local government passed legislation to help fund a new arena.
It would have been devastating to the community had the Bucks left town.
“Oh no doubt,” Moncrief said. “Milwaukee is a tremendous community, a good sports town. They’ve been extremely loyal for a number of years. They have new ownership and positive energy. It would have been tragic for the state of Wisconsin or the city to lose the Bucks. They’re a good team, they’re young, they’re aggressive, they’re doing some things differently – and I look for this team, this franchise, in the next five years to start climbing back to the top.”
The Bucks are indeed young. Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams are 23. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker is 20.
You didn’t see players this young perform so well in Moncrief’s day.
“I think in the ’80s, most players played four years of college,” Moncrief said. “Most players had the influence of their head coach, their junior high school coach. You did not have all these alternative teams you were playing on. Your loyalty was not split between a different set of teammates. That way you developed some continuity; you developed a sense of team earlier than you do now. I think the biggest difference is certainly kids are coming out earlier. Four years of college, obviously it’s not for everyone, but it certainly helped me become fundamentally a better basketball player, which means long-term it was, I thought, better for the game and the NBA. You look at Magic, you look at Larry Bird. Even though Michael Jordan only played two years, all of the great players throughout the history (of the game) – Oscar Robertson, Kareem – they had multiple years of college. And that certainly enhanced the NBA game.”