Milwaukee Bucks: Terry Cummings was key to 80s success

LANDOVER, MD - CIRCA 1985: (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - CIRCA 1985: (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

As the Milwaukee Bucks thrived throughout the mid to late 80s, Terry Cummings was at the center of much of their elite play.

A star for one of the most successful teams in Milwaukee Bucks history, Terry Cummings was far from run-of-the-mill.

Aside from his obvious talent on the court, Cummings is an accomplished gospel singer, who once sang the national anthem prior to a game in Milwaukee, and even released an R&B album following his retirement.

Cummings has also been an ordained pentecostal minister since before his professional playing days, and relied heavily on his faith throughout what was an illustrious career in the NBA.

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Having come from a large family with significant financial struggles as a child, Cummings eventually ascended to be the second overall pick of the 1982 NBA Draft.

As Cummings detailed to the New York Times in the run-up to that draft, his turn to basketball and his faith represented a significant change from some of the life choices he was making as a teenager.

"“I used to pack a gun and a knife. I used to go around with guys beating up people. Not mugging them, because taking their money always seemed like taking their dignity, too. Just beating them up for the fun of it. I tried all the drugs, too, everything. But when I was 16 one night I had a dream. I saw the Lord coming back to get his chosen, but I was unprepared.”"

Dreams continued to play a major role in Cummings’ journey when he arrived in the NBA, as after a successful first two seasons in the league, at least from an individual standpoint, with the San Diego Clippers, the time came for him to move on. As Cummings explained in an interview with Not In Hall of Fame, a dream again held the answers for him:

"“I remember (in the dream) running up and down the court in a Milwaukee Bucks uniform. It was either that or Boston, and I knew it wasn’t Boston, because I did not have really good vibes about it. I knew it was Milwaukee, and when I went to the owner (Donald Sterling) he initially told me that he wouldn’t trade me because I was his franchise player. I told him that when he did trade me to trade me to Milwaukee.We (the Clippers) had actually moved from San Diego to L.A. in what was my third year in the League. I went to training camp I think actually only one day but I didn’t do anything because I was determined to get out of San Diego. That night I got the call that I had been traded to Milwaukee. I was so excited! I danced on my bed, I shouted, that was my championship! It was nothing against the city of San Diego, but I just didn’t like losing.”"

Although the Bucks had been incredibly successful at that time, the trade that brought Cummings to Milwaukee meant he had big boots to fill if that was to continue. In 1984, Cummings landed with the Bucks alongside Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges, in a deal that saw Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman and Harvey Catchings headed to the Clippers.

With Bob Lanier having announced his retirement that same week, and Johnson and Bridgeman already having earned legend status in Milwaukee, if the Bucks were to remain the competitive force they’d been virtually since their inception, Cummings would have to deliver.

Over the six seasons he played in Milwaukee up until 1989, Cummings averaged 19.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field. Cummings also made the All-Star team on two occasions, while making the All-NBA Second Team in 1985, and the All-NBA Third Team in 1988.

The Bucks made the playoffs in all six of those years.

Shortly after the trade was completed, then Bucks coach Don Nelson spoke to the Los Angeles Times about how he wanted to see Cummings develop defensively, but made no secret of his new power forward’s immense talent.

"“He’s the most gifted player I’ve ever coached, but he’s not the best. Someday, maybe. He’s just beginning to learn the game.”"

Nelson was known for being demanding, particularly when it came to his notoriously detailed defensive scheme, but over time Cummings came to resemble a more natural fit and one of Nelson’s most important players.

Cummings was one of the league’s most dynamic forwards, possessing a combination of immense power and smooth movement that allowed him to dominate the boards and create angles to score around the rim. The ability to put the ball on the floor and take his man off the dribble, on top of a knack for playmaking made Cummings a perfect partner for Sidney Moncrief.

Cummings was eventually traded to the San Antonio Spurs in 1989, where he continued to be successful until a knee injury dramatically altered his game. Still, Cummings played until the age of 38, and returned to the Bucks for one more season in 1995-96.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: Sidney Moncrief was the picture of consistency

When people talk about the great Bucks teams of the 80s, Moncrief and Johnson may be the first names that come to mind, but under no circumstances should Cummings’ contribution be underestimated.