Ray Patterson, former president of the Milwaukee Bucks, passed away Wednesday at the age of 89. He served in that role for the franchise’s first four seasons – including their only championship. When the team was founded in 1968, Patterson became the team’s original president while maintaining his position as headmaster of Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, WI.
Together with Bucks general manager John Erickson, Patterson drafted Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) with the number one overall pick of the 1969 draft. They signed him to an NBA contract — no small feat given the American Basketball Assocation’s presence at the time — with financial assistance from the NBA league office.
In 1970, Patterson and Erickson engineered the trade that brought Oscar Robertson to Milwaukee. A month later, Erickson won the Wisconsin Republican nomination for Senate and left the team. At that point, Patterson, in addition to being Milwaukee’s team president, became the de facto general manager of the Bucks, and left Wayland to devote his full attention to the Bucks.
The Bucks, led by Kareem and Oscar, won their first and only NBA championship in the franchise’s third season. While managing the affairs of the defending champs, Patterson accepted a similar position with the Houston Rockets in February 1972. For nearly two decades, he served as both president and general manager of the Rockets, helping basketball survive, and later, thrive in a football-mad state.
Patterson knew how Houstonians liked their basketball players: big, just like everything else. Under his watch, the Rockets acquired Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, and Hakeem Olajuwon. During his tenure with the Rockets, the team went to the NBA Finals twice — in 1981 and 1986. The team also hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1989.
Patterson also played for the University of Wisconsin basketball team from 1941 to 1944. He was the team’s MVP in his final two seasons and was named to the Big 10 First-Team All-Conference team following his senior campaign.