Milwaukee Bucks: Imagining a documentary on the early 1970s Bucks

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 5, 1974: (Photo by Ron Kuntz Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 5, 1974: (Photo by Ron Kuntz Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 17, 1973: (Photo by Ross Lewis/Getty Images) /

Falling short

As Sports Illustrated wrote at beginning of April 1974, the NBA Playoffs began with no true title favorite on either side of the ledger. Of course, Milwaukee was determined to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning their title.

First, the Lakers stood in the way of the Bucks to open up their playoff run in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Los Angeles was not the same team the Bucks had battled against up to that point in the decade. Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain had retired before the 73-74 season and Jerry West, like Robertson, was run down by a groin injury, which limited him to 31 regular season appearances and just one game in the playoff series.

The Bucks took the first pair of games in the series while the Lakers took Game 3 with a 98-96 win. Milwaukee promptly responded in Games 4 and 5 with back-to-back 22-point victories to finish out the five-game series and advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Awaiting them was their I-94 rival in the Bulls, who had edged past the Detroit Pistons in a seven-game series the previous round. Milwaukee thoroughly dispatched the Bulls by knocking them out in four games and by a 57-point margin. Sidenote, but Abdul-Jabbar was incredibly dominant in the sweep as he averaged 34.8-19.5-3.8, along with two blocks and a steal over the Conference Finals.

That left the two best teams in the NBA that year, the Bucks and the Boston Celtics, to duke it out in a NBA Finals classic that is remembered to this day.

As both clubs traded games back and forth with one another, with the Celtics striking first with a 98-83 Game 1 victory at the MECCA, the series was a test of resilience for both the Bucks and the Celtics. That was reinforced by the pair of overtimes that occurred in Game 2, a 105-96 Bucks win, and a 102-101 double overtime Milwaukee victory in Game 6.

Game 6, of course, supplied all Bucks fans with one of the most iconic moments in Bucks history as it was Abdul-Jabbar’s magnificent skyhook with three seconds left remaining in the second overtime period that forced the decisive Game 7.

It was Abdul-Jabbar’s extraordinary talents and productivity that increasingly kept the Bucks afloat throughout the series.

Save for Dandridge, the Bucks’ hampered supporting cast, with injuries affecting both McGlocklin and Robertson, had doomed them and generated uncomfortable questions in light of their performance. Take this exchange that Abdul-Jabbar had with one reporter following Game 3 as Sports Illustrated reported on back in May of 1974 for example:

"“During his early years with the Warriors,” asked a reporter, “when Wilt Chamberlain was criticized for never winning championships, he used to defend himself by saying he wasn’t getting much help from his teammates. Do you sometimes feel the same way?” “You’re trying to get me to say that my teammates aren’t any good,” answered Abdul-Jabbar. “I guess so,” the reporter admitted. “I have no comment on that,” said Abdul-Jabbar.”"

After trading blow after blow, the Celtics turned to their fail-safe of doubling and triple-teaming Abdul-Jabbar extensively throughout Game 7. This time around, there was no miracle skyhook or unlikely savior as the Bucks were roundly defeated in a 102-87 loss on their home floor by the Celtics, who had won their 12th championship.

The exhaustion of such an intense series, and the preceding four years, left someone like Dandridge relieved that the series was simply over as he described to Jim Owczarski of On Milwaukee in June 2014:

"“At the end of a series like that, you’re just glad it’s over,” Dandridge said. “You know, you’re like, OK, it’s over, they won and you’re exhausted and you know you laid everything out there so let’s just go ahead and move on to the summer. It takes you, once you regain your juices and you’ve rested, then you reflect back on the pain of losing the game. For me, Boston won. They were the better team for that seven game series. Then it’s over.”"

For others, such as Jonny Mac, there was an unnerving, but unspoken sense that change was on the horizon:

"“I think we all knew it had a shelf life, but it’s not something you discussed,” McGlocklin said."

McGlocklin’s prescient words would quickly come to pass over the course of the 1974 offseason. The Bucks, as everyone knew them at the time, would soon be no more.