The Milwaukee Bucks have had only two ownership groups in the past 31 years. From 1985 to 2014, Herb Kohl oversaw the franchise and worked to keep it in Milwaukee.
A lot of great things happened for the Milwaukee Bucks on the court during the 1980s. One very important matter that did not involve actual basketball was also taken care of.
Jim Fitzgerald owned a majority stake in the Bucks for some great years from 1976 to 1985, but then decided he was done owning the team. He sold it in ’85 to Herb Kohl, who spent the tidy sum of $18 million on the Bucks.
Although the Milwaukee Bucks may have struggled to find success during much of Kohl’s tenure as owner, he deserves to be lauded for several reasons, not the least of which is that Milwaukee never embraced the tank.
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Despite sometimes failing at the task, the Milwaukee Bucks always attempted to be competitive under Kohl. The team threw money at whichever free agents would consider joining the Bucks in an attempt to win games and make the playoffs.
These days those decisions are widely panned, but truth be told there’s a lot more fun that comes out of a playoff series against the likes of LeBron James than there is in a 10-win season, even if the Bucks get crushed in said playoff series.
Even more importantly, Herb Kohl was always determined to maintaining the Milwaukee in Milwaukee Bucks. This was most notably on display in 2014, when Kohl’s time as owner ended with the sale of the team to Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and the group they headed up.
Kohl said it didn’t matter if an offer was completely ludicrous–if it meant the Bucks would be moved, it was a non-starter in his book according to an interview he did with Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"“Somebody could have offered me $5 billion and I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. How could I still live here? How could I live with myself? I never thought in any way that anybody could offer me the price that would be sufficient to say to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, ‘I’m taking a lot of money, and goodbye.'”"
Back in 2003 Kohl considered selling the team to shoe magnate and NBA legend Michael Jordan, and again at that point re-affirmed that any sale would have to include the stipulation that the Bucks stay in Milwaukee.
The sale never happened–Kohl wasn’t ready to give up the Bucks at that point–but even if MJ owned the Bucks, he would’ve had to keep the team right here in Wisconsin.
For trying his best to make Milwaukee great again, and for succeeding in keeping Seattle’s dirty hands off of the Bucks, Herb Kohl deserves to be remembered forever in Milwaukee Bucks history.
Just as initial owners Wes Pavalon and Marvin Fishman deserve credit for founding the Bucks, Kohl deserves equally as much for keeping the Bucks where they belong.
All three men should find some sort of recompense for what they did for the franchise in the new arena somewhere. Without all three of them–most recently Kohl giving up on hundreds of millions of dollars in profit he could’ve made from selling the team to the highest bidder instead of a group willing to keep the team in Milwaukee–there are no Milwaukee Bucks to get excited about over the next few years.
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And make no mistake, Kohl did give up that much. In addition to the money he lost by selling the team to Lasry and Edens for $550 million when other suitors were willing to pay more, he also gave $100 million towards the new arena and spent $10 million on workers at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
From that great D’Amato piece:
"Most people know that when Herb Kohl sold the Milwaukee Bucks two years ago, he pledged $100 million toward the construction of a new arena. What’s not as well known is that he gave a bonus to every member of the Bucks organization and to every worker at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.Ushers got $2,000 or more. Some longtime Bucks employees got enough to pay off their mortgages or to buy new homes. In total, Kohl gave away $10 million."
That’s going far above and beyond what a typical owner does. Herb Kohl was an outstanding steward of the Milwaukee Bucks, and that must be recognized as a new era of Bucks basketball approaches.