Milwaukee Bucks: Looking Back At The 1971 NBA Finals

The Milwaukee Bucks have just one title in franchise history. Revisit the 1971 NBA Finals, when the Bucks claimed their title by sweeping the Washington Bullets.

Almost unfortunately, there wasn’t much drama about the Milwaukee Bucks first title run in 1970-71. To put it simply, the Bucks absolutely dominated all season and postseason.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA’s leading scorer, added more wins to his team than anybody else in the NBA and took home MVP honors.

The Bucks finished 66-16, still the best regular season record in franchise history. The next-best team in the NBA that season was probably the New York Knicks, who won just 52 games. The Bucks were 14 games better than the next best team.

They played like it, too. Milwaukee finished first in points per game, first in assists per game, first in field goal percentage, first in offensive rating, first in defensive rating, first in SRS and third in points allowed per game.

Although obviously Kareem had the most to do with Milwaukee’s success, those Bucks were stacked. Oscar Robertson and Bob Dandridge were both still great, adding 19.4 and 18.4 points per game, respectively.

Jon McGlocklin played a major role on that team, as did Bob Boozer and Greg Smith. Those Bucks were so stacked that Lucius Allen only saw 19 minutes per game!

But at the center of it all, quite literally, was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem averaged 31.7 points per game, 16.0 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game. This was the squad going up against the Washington Bullets in the 1971 NBA Finals.

Washington finished first in their division, but went just 42-40 in the regular season. Earl Monroe, Jack Marin and Gus Johnson (no, not that Gus Johnson) were the Bullets leading contributors on offense, all scoring at least 18 points per game.

A young Wes Unseld was probably the Bullets best player, but he wasn’t ready for Kareem in the Finals. Kareem actually scored less in the Finals than he did in the regular season, although his field goal percentage did rise up over 60 percent.

Unseld out-rebounded him, but with Robertson and Dandridge taking larger roles on offense it didn’t matter. Both of those two raised their per game scoring numbers up over 20 for the Finals to compensate for Kareem taking less shots, and it worked out in Milwaukee’s favor.

The closest contest was game three, where Milwaukee won by just eight points. The Bucks won game one by ten, game two by 19, and game four by 12 points. At no point in the series were the Bucks ever down during an intermission (between quarters or at halftime).

And that was that. Just three years after founding the team, Milwaukee was home to the NBA champions. Certainly fans and team personnel alike expected that team to bring back another trophy at some point, but that’s just not what happened.

The Bucks were still a great regular season team for the next three years, but then Kareem broke his hand and Milwaukee got off to a rough start in the 1974-75 NBA season, winning just three of 16 games he sat out. The next summer, he demanded a trade to a city more accepting of his culture, and that was that.

The Bucks failed to win 50 games again for the rest of the 1970s, and won 60 just once more in franchise history. That’s why that Finals win in 1971 needs to be remembered forever in Milwaukee, even if it wasn’t the most compelling story that’s ever existed. It’s still the last title to be won by a major professional sports team located in Milwaukee (looking at you, Brewers).

The Milwaukee Bucks are a championship franchise thanks to that team in ’71. They dominated everybody for an entire season and earned their title.

Hopefully soon the Bucks can add another Larry O’Brien to the trophy case, and in 40 years somebody can write an article about why it’s important not to forget that one. Until then, we’ll always have 1971.