Almost 50 years on from their addition to the NBA, how did the Milwaukee Bucks come into being and who were the people responsible?
With NBA basketball only having arrived in the upper Mid-West in 1966 with the formation of the Chicago Bulls, there was perhaps no region of the country with a greater appetite for expansion franchises towards the tail end of the 1960s.
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Pavalon became a multi-millionaire from his work in the teaching sector, in spite of dropping out of school in the 10th grade himself. A native of Chicago, he went on to found Career Academy, a private and home schooling network that was valued at $200 million shortly after the time the Bucks came into being.
Described as a relentless worker who lived on a diet of “pizza and low-calorie colas”, Pavalon described his path to success in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1969.
"“You know, it’s a funny thing, finance. People know I never went to school. It’s no secret. And they ask me where I learned finance. They think you have to go to the Harvard Business School before you can make a dollar. Nuts! I tell them I learned my finance out in the streets. I mean you can either learn by being taught at home, and I sure wasn’t getting any there, or you have to learn it yourself.”"
On the flip side of the coin, Pavalon’s business partner in the Bucks’ venture took a more conventional route to corporate success.
Marvin Fishman was born and raised in Milwaukee, and having returned from World War II having served in the Air Corps, Fishman studied at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. There Fishman earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and a Master’s in Business Administration.
From there, Fishman built a real estate empire, but never really drifted away from his love of sport and his desire to bring a professional team back to his beloved Milwaukee.
As explained by Fishman in the interview above, his original plan was to bring an AFL franchise to the city, but that plan was scuppered by the Green Bay Packers and, specifically, the legendary Vince Lombardi.
That forced a change of strategy, and as such, Pavalon and Fishman together formed and headed up Milwaukee Professional Sports and Services, Inc. (better known as Milwaukee Pro). Having put together a proposal for the NBA, Milwaukee Pro paid $2 million for the rights to a team and were officially awarded a franchise on January 22, 1968.
Pavalon and Fishman became the team’s president and vice president respectively, and the franchise was incorporated on February 5.
As outlined on the Bucks’ official website, from there Pavalon and Fishman opened up a public offering of shares, available only to those who were resident in Wisconsin.
"“An application from Milwaukee Pro was registered with the Wisconsin Department of Securities for the sale of 300,000 shares of common stock to Wisconsin residents at $5 per share. Because the issue caught public fancy, an additional 125,000 shares were offered when the stock opened on the over-the-counter market on April 24, 1968.”"
That move not only provided clear evidence of the public backing that was already in place for a Milwaukee team, but ensured that the fanbase were active and engaged members of the franchise from the day it first took to the court. As Pavalon explained in his SI interview:
"“I felt the Bucks would have a better chance of success if everybody had a piece.”"
The Bucks hit the ground running, in a relative sense, for an expansion franchise with 27 wins. Things would improve significantly from there though, with the franchise’s sole championship success to date coming in 1971.
Milwaukee Pro would remain the team’s owners through to 1977 when the team was sold to Jim Fitzgerald. Both men eventually passed away in 2009, with Pavalon aged 76 and Fishman, 84.
To this day, Bucks fans have Pavalon and Fishman to thank for not only bringing a team to Milwaukee, but setting foundations solid enough for the franchise to remain almost 50 years later.