MILWAUKEE — The link between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns started way before these 2021 NBA Finals. It goes back over 50 years.
The Bucks and Suns both came into the NBA as expansion franchises in 1968. One year later, the Bucks and Suns took part in a coin flip that would have a dramatic impact on both franchises.
On March 19, 1969, the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks participated in a coin flip to determine the number one pick in the 1969 draft. The stakes were high.
Generational talent Lew Alcindor - later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - is sure to be the top selection.
The big man was about to lead UCLA to its third straight NCAA Championship. The Suns called heads based on a newspaper poll of fans. The 1964 Kennedy half-dollar came up tails.
In the celebration, team owner Wes Pavalon burned the ear of Bucks general manager John Erickson with a cigarette.
Kareem had an immediate impact on the Bucks. They went from 27 to 56 wins in his rookie season, followed by 66 wins when joined by Oscar Robertson and an NBA title in his second season and just the third season of the franchise, 1970-71.
“It’s going to the mountaintop," said Jon McGlocklin, a starting guard on that championship team. "There’s nothing bigger in your sport than that. It’s the very top of everything. It’s a real accomplishment. You have to be fortunate as well as good.”
Kareem would also lead the Bucks to the NBA Finals in 1974, where they lost in seven games to the Boston Celtics. In 1975, after six seasons with the Bucks, Kareem got his wish when he was traded to the Lakers. He won three MVP awards in Milwaukee and remains the franchise's all time scoring leader.
The Suns were crestfallen. With the second pick, Phoenix selected Florida center Neal Walk, who was a solid but not spectacular NBA player. The Suns are still in search of their first NBA championship.
“It was a traumatic loss," said longtime Suns President Jerry Colangelo. "When that ended, I recall getting in a car and driving around town for hours, just to try to get my head together and think through this whole thing.”
Before these Finals, the Bucks and Suns met only once in the playoffs when Don Nelson's young Bucks upset the Suns in a first round best of three series in 1978. Now in 2021, the history of these franchises is intertwined again.