Milwaukee Bucks: 49 years in 49 days – 1977-78 season

MILWAUKEE, WI - CIRCA 1970s: Marques Johnson #8 of the Milwaukee Bucks in a game in the 1970s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/ Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - CIRCA 1970s: Marques Johnson #8 of the Milwaukee Bucks in a game in the 1970s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/ Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks’ 1977-78 season would preview the success the franchise would have in the coming decade.

The season: 1977-78

The record: 44-38

The postseason: 5-4. lost in second round 

The story:

After a down season the year before that saw the Milwaukee Bucks miss the playoffs, they had a good draft pick. Trading Swen Nater got the Bucks another top pick. They used the first overall pick in 1977 on Kent Benson, and the third pick on Marques Johnson.

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Benson would be best known for breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s hand … with his face, when Kareem punched him … but Marques would go on to become one of the absolute best players in Milwaukee Bucks franchise history.

He would have room to grow with the Bucks, as longstanding top dog Bob Dandridge signed with the Washington Bullets in that very same summer. Suddenly, the small forward spot was wide open for Marques. He would not waste the opportunity.

Brian Winters led the team in scoring, but nobody had any doubts about what Marques Johnson was capable of after his very first season. The original MJ averaged 19.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game while leading the Bucks in minutes played per game.

Along with Marques and Winters, power forward Dave Meyers had a career year in 1977-78, posting 14.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. Quinn Buckner really came into his own as Milwaukee’s starting point guard, and Junior Bridgeman continued to provide a huge spark in his sixth man role, one he had a part in pioneering.

With all of those players having good years, it’s no surprise the Bucks found themselves in the 1978 NBA Playoffs. In a short first round series against the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee swept by winning the first two games the teams played. Paul Westphal and Walter Davis were no match for Marques and Winters, and the Bucks moved to the second round for the first time since 1974.

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In the second round, the Denver Nuggets would be Milwaukee’s opponent. Despite a surprisingly good series from future Nugget Alex English, Denver’s core of David Thompson, Dan Issel, and Anthony Roberts was too much for the suddenly young-again Bucks, and the Nuggets took the series in seven games.

Dandridge’s new team, the Washington Bullets, would go on to win the title that season. Still, despite watching a longtime contributor find immediate success elsewhere, there was reason for real optimism again in Milwaukee. The Bucks had themselves another top tier player!

Marques Johnson had taken over the lead dog role in the postseason, a remarkable feat for a first-year player. His ability to score, rebound, pass, and defend made Milwaukee quite the dangerous team on both ends.

Next: 49 years in 49 days: 1976-77 season

Unfortunately, it would take one more dud of a season in order for the Milwaukee Bucks run of prolonged success in the very late 1970s and the 1980s to truly kick off.