Bucks: Marking 40 years since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade changed 2 franchises

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Mar 3, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Mar 3, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the leading scorer in Milwaukee Bucks and NBA history, waves to fans during game against the Utah Jazz at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It was the biggest deal in the history of the Milwaukee Bucks and remains so to this day. It was one of the biggest deals in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The June 16, 1975, trade that sent the greatest player in the history of the Bucks franchise—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—to the Lakers happened 40 years ago today and it dramatically altered the paths of both franchises.

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It’s hard to fathom that Kareem spent just six years in the forest green of the Bucks.

How good was Abdul-Jabbar during those six years? He’s still the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds and points, remains the only player in team history to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, an award he won three times while in Milwaukee, and he led the team to its only championship in 1971.

That the Bucks got Abdul-Jabbar at all took some luck. In its expansion season, Milwaukee finished 27-55, last in the Eastern Division, and participated in the annual coin flip for the first pick in the draft against the Phoenix Suns, the Bucks’ expansion brother and owner of the Western Division’s worst record at 16-66.

The Bucks won the flip and the top pick.

They took UCLA star Lew Alcindor, twice the national player of the year in three seasons with the Bruins and a player seen as a franchise changer.

But that was only half the battle.

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Milwaukee general manager John Erickson also had to navigate around the ABA, which was willing to throw all of the league’s resources behind a bid to get Abdul-Jabbar with the New York Nets, his hometown team in the fledgling league.

Legendary UCLA booster Sam Gilbert was acting as Kareem’s agent, and he told the Bucks and Nets that he would accept one offer from each team and choose, according to former ABA executive Mike Storen, as told to Terry Pluto in Pluto’s outstanding 1990 narrative history of the ABA, “Loose Balls.”

The ABA was prepared to give Abdul-Jabbar a $1 million check as a signing bonus, but according to Storen, ABA commissioner George Mikan changed the script while meeting with Gilbert and Kareem and didn’t offer the check.

Abdul-Jabbar accepted the Bucks’ offer and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now 40 years later, we remember the principles in one of the NBA’s biggest trades ever and how the courses of the franchises changed.

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