The 1996 NBA Draft is generally regarded as one of the best draft classes in league history. The Milwaukee Bucks would certainly agree with that sentiment.
After all, the Bucks netted one of the best players to don a Bucks uniform that June 26 night in Ray Allen after trading the draft rights for Stephon Marbury to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Allen’s draft rights, along with Andrew Lang.
As NBA TV’s documentary centered on the 1996 NBA Draft entitled ‘Ready or Not: The ’96 Draft’ recently explored, which you can watch both parts here, Allen discussed his draft night, which was certainly tumultuous for a variety of reasons.
The smooth shooting guard out of the University of Connecticut knew going into draft night that the Bucks, specifically owner Herb Kohl, had thought highly of Allen as the Bucks held the fourth overall pick. But upon seeing the Bucks select Marbury, Allen pivoted elsewhere to where he could land:
“So when the fourth pick comes, I really heard that Milwaukee had loved me. Senator Kohl, he really loved me and thought that I was a good fit for them. But the cameras go to Stephon’s table…They picked Stephon Marbury, so immediately I assume I’m going to Boston because I know Minnesota has Isaiah Rider and I didn’t visit there so they don’t need me. So I got excited and pumped my fist a little bit.”
The fact that Allen didn’t visit with the Timberwolves or their brass helmed by then-general manager Kevin McHale didn’t stop them from taking him with the fifth overall pick, which set the groundwork for the deal. Being in the dark about the trade talks that were going on behind the scenes, Allen recounted feeling his heart sinking when the camera gathered around his table as then-NBA commissioner David Stern walked toward the podium.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ selection of Ray Allen wasn’t well-received on draft night.
As confusion had set the tone for Allen’s draft night, the image of Allen wearing a Timberwolves hat and shaking Stern’s hand would be his fleeting contribution to that franchise. Meanwhile, McHale recalled the conversations that led to the trade going down between both sides.
“I knew that Milwaukee wanted to take Ray Allen, but Andrew Lang was a guy they wanted. I was looking to move Andrew anyways as he didn’t fit with where we were, so I thought if (the Bucks) to take Marbury at 4 and if Allen is there at 5, what would it take for them to do a swap?”
The call was set and it was only a few minutes later where Stern announced to the sold-out crowd in Continental Airlines Arena, the former home of the New Jersey Nets. Upon the announcement, though, the Bucks’ acquisition of Allen garnered a chilly response from the fans in attendance as well as the draft night party at the Bradley Center, which the 45-year-old remembers to this day:
“Once the trade happened, Milwaukee booed and everybody in Milwaukee was upset…So now I’m miserable. I felt like I was a man without a home. You know, I didn’t know why I was going to Minnesota, nobody wanted me. Then I go to Milwaukee and they didn’t want me. I was like this didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.”
It’s safe to say Bucks fans would soon turn around on Allen once his stint eventually got underway. Allen blossomed into a star over his seven-and-a-half years in Milwaukee where he earned three All-Star appearances, two All-NBA nods and reached the Eastern Conference Finals with the ‘Big 3’ Bucks during the 2000-01 season.
This also wouldn’t be the lone time where Marbury was a conduit to form the Bucks’ eventual ‘Big 3’ during Allen’s time in Milwaukee. When Marbury wanted out of Minnesota midway through the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the three-team deal that sent Marbury to New Jersey brought Sam Cassell to the Bucks.
So while the start of his NBA journey wound up being less auspicious than he thought, it was in Milwaukee where Allen set the foundation of his Hall of Fame career.