Milwaukee Bucks: Sidney Moncrief earned Michael Jordan’s respect

PORTLAND, OR - 1985: (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - 1985: (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images) /

It was no coincidence that Milwaukee Bucks legend Sidney  Moncrief appeared in The Last Dance, as he had long since earned Michael Jordan’s respect as a player.

It was an undoubted joy for Milwaukee Bucks fans who settled into watch the debut of ESPN’s The Last Dance, the documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, when the familiar face of franchise legend Sidney Moncrief appeared on screen.

At the same time, the fact that Moncrief would end up appearing in any documentary about Jordan’s greatness isn’t really surprising at all.

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Moncrief’s legacy is arguably not what it should be at this point. Thankfully, his long overdue wait to be inducted into the Hall of Fame came to an end in 2019, but the fact Moncrief had to wait so long in the first place speaks to the larger issue.

As the Bucks spent the 1980s as one of the NBA’s truly elite teams, Moncrief was the driving force behind everything they achieved. Moncrief frequently averaged in the reason of 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists, while also thriving as the best perimeter defender in the entire NBA.

His reputation as one of the NBA’s greatest on-ball defenders ever is cemented by the fact Moncrief won consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1983 and 1984.

That complete nature of Moncrief’s game means that although he may not be remembered quite as vividly as the other stars of that era — likely because the Bucks never got over the line to win a championship — there has never been any question about the respect he’s held in by his peers.

So, although Moncrief appeared in the opening episode of The Last Dance to sing Jordan’s praises, that in its own right stands as a testament to the Bucks legend’s own game. Essentially, if you want an expert to convey just how special Jordan was offensively, there aren’t many people alive who are more qualified to speak to that than Moncrief.

Speaking to Sam McManis of the L.A. Times in 1986, Jordan famously said of Moncrief:

"“When you play against Moncrief, you’re in for a night of all-around basketball,” said Jordan, a spectator on this night. “He’ll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it.”"

The year prior to that, Larry Bird had also echoed that statement in conversation with Sports Illustrated’s Jaime Diaz, highlighting Moncrief’s remarkable consistency on defense:

"“He does everything you’re supposed to do on defense and doesn’t take any short cuts. Plus he does it every night.”"

Beyond that, it wasn’t just about how great of a defender Moncrief was, but how easy he frequently made such lockdown defense look.

That sentiment was nicely captured by Charles P. Pierce in Sports Illustrated, as he made the case for Moncrief to be inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2017:

"“He was never outwardly ferocious, but try to get the ball when Sidney decided that you shouldn’t have it. He would lock you up and look very cool doing it. But, mainly, Moncrief belongs in the Hall of Fame as a witness to, and a participant in, the generation of players who helped save the NBA.”"

Given that Jordan entered the NBA at Moncrief’s pinnacle, and Moncrief’s career would finish the same season that the Bulls won their first championship, it seems unlikely that there’ll be too much more of Moncrief or his great Bucks teams featuring over the remainder of The Last Dance.

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Still, on the whole it’s offered a timely reminder and opportunity to appreciate just how special Moncrief was. His name may not be on the tip of NBA fans’ tongues in the way that Jordan, Bird, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving might be, but Moncrief earned his spot in that same company on the court, and that group of players are not shy about acknowledging just how fearsome a game against Sir Sid really was.