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Today in Sports History: 1/22 | Bucks and Suns Join the NBA

Today in sports history (1968) the NBA awarded Milwaukee and Phoenix a team each to expand the league to 14 teams. Both teams will always be linked in NBA history, as they entered together.

Another major NBA event that links these two teams is the drafting of Lew Alcindor. Coming into the 1969 NBA Draft, both teams tied for the worst record in the NBA. This led to a coin toss for the number one pick. The Milwaukee Bucks won the coin toss and selected Alcindor, while the Phoenix Suns selected Neal Walk. The Bucks won a championship almost immediately with Alcindor and made another Finals before losing to the Celtics. The Suns made two Finals since the Bucks in 1974, in 1976 and 1993. These teams eventually met in the NBA finals in 2021, where the Bucks topped the Suns in six games.

Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns nba today in sports history
Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Milwaukee Bucks Make NBA History

The Milwaukee Bucks immediately set an American sports record that stands to this day. They are the fastest expansion team to win a title, relative to their inception. This was due in part to Milwaukee partnering Alcindor with an aging Oscar Robertson. Along with Bob Dandridge and Jon McGlocklin, the Bucks formed one of the best starting lineups in NBA history. The Bucks eventually took down the Baltimore Bullets in the 1970-71 season to win the NBA championship. The Bucks rode that momentum to another 1974 finals appearance where the Bucks lost to the Celtics. Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, moved on from the team and the Bucks found themselves rebuilding again.

Come the 1980’s, the Bucks flirted with the NBA Finals a couple of times but were never able to get over the Celtics and 76ers hump. A team consisting of Sidney Moncrief, Marques Johnson and Terry Cummings made the Eastern Conference Finals a handful of times, but were outlasted by Julius Erving and Larry Bird. Come 1988, most of the team moved on and the Bucks finished towards the bottom of the league for 10 years. A big three of Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen brought the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, where they went down to Allen Iverson’s 76ers.

The postseason success drought continued until the Milwaukee Bucks partnered Giannis Antetokounmpo with Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. This core allowed the Bucks five playoff appearances in the late 2010’s and early 2020’s. With the addition of Jrue Holiday, this all resulted in a championship in 2021 with a win over…you guessed it the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix Suns Still Looking for a Championship

Unlike the Bucks, the Suns did not start their NBA history in a positive manner. Their first playoff appearance came in the 1969-70 season, where they went down in seven to the Los Angeles Lakers. They then had to wait another six years before making the playoffs again. A team consisting of Alvan Adams, Gar Heard, Dick Van Arsdale and Paul Westphal beat Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals in 1976. They eventually lost to the Boston Celtics in the finals.

The Suns periodically made the playoffs, including a couple of conference finals in the ’80s. With the help of Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers and Kevin Johnson the Suns made the NBA Finals. They ran into a buzzsaw as Michael Jordan’s Bulls were at the height of their prowess. Barkley finished the season, winning the MVP award.

Their next big move came when Suns’ lineup consisted of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson. Coached by Mike D’Antoni, the Suns popularized the seven seconds or less offense, where every time they were on offense, the ball was going up quickly. This culminated in 2 MVPs for Nash and three conference finals appearances, all losses. The Suns last finals appearance came last year with a team built around Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Chris Paul. They went down to the Bucks in six games.

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