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Today in Sports History: 3/1 – Herb Kohl Buys the Milwaukee Bucks

Today in sports history (1985), Milwaukee businessman and future U.S senator Herb Kohl bought the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks were in the middle of one of their best eras since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar moved west. With players like Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey, the Bucks were a perfect spot for someone to take over a contender in the league.

Kohl spent only $18 million on the team. One of the main reasons for Kohl’s interest and purchase of the Bucks was to keep the team in Wisconsin. In 2003, Kohl had contemplated selling the team to Michael Jordan, but changed his mind and committed to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Kohl Was a Small Bright Spot for the Milwaukee Bucks During His Ownership

The Milwaukee Bucks found success in Kohl’s first five years as an owner, with five winning seasons. That all started to change though, as the 1991-92 season rolled around. The excellent teams from the ’80s were no more. In fact, in that 1991-92 season, the Bucks’ leading scorer was a 36-year-old Moses Malone, at 15.6 points per game. From the Moncrief era to the Ray Allen-Sam Cassell-Glenn Robinson era, the Bucks were one of the worst teams in the NBA. What made Kohl so popular though was that the team always tried to stay competitive. This would lead to spending money on free agents and using draft picks to acquire players, something that is not ordinary from a supposed rebuilding team.

Herb Kohl Buys the Bucks
Credit: Jeff Phelps

Kohl Keeps Bucks in Milwaukee

After making the conference finals at the finale of the 2001 season, the Bucks would fail to return for the next 18 years. Allen was traded to Seattle for Desmond Mason and the “Big Three” era was over. That’s when Jordan came knocking. Recently finishing a historic NBA career, Jordan wanted in on the ownership game. Kohl made stipulations to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee for Jordan. The sale never occurred.

The other thing that made Kohl popular was his intent to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. Every time that Kohl was approached about selling the team, he made sure to keep the team in Wisconsin.

“Somebody could have offered me $5 billion and I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. How could I still live here? How could I live with myself? I never thought in any way that anybody could offer me the price that would be sufficient to say to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, ‘I’m taking a lot of money, and goodbye,'” said Herb Kohl.

Kohl’s stipulation of keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee finally came to fruition when he sold the team to a group led by Wes Edens and Marc Lasry. Edens and Lasry kept the team in Milwaukee. Although Kohl never saw a Bucks championship as owner, many fans thank him for keeping their team in Milwaukee.

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