First it was Junior Bridgeman, a Bucks alumnus who dropped by Milwaukee over the weekend and fueled speculation that he might buy a chunk of the franchise from owner Herb Kohl to keep it in town.
Now it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, talking in more general terms about his interest in NBA ownership but doing so on the day he’s back in Milwaukee, too.
Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks’ first and greatest superstar, acknowledged to the Milwaukee Business Journal on Monday that he hasn’t talked with Kohl about investing in the Bucks.
It also sounded as if his commitment — whenever, wherever and if ever — would have more to do with reputation and perhaps sweat equity than the deep pockets Bridgeman can bring to any deal. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points) and six-time champion talked with the Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen more about his fit as a minority NBA owner than about securing the Bucks in the city he left after six seasons.
“Being involved in the business of basketball is something I wouldn’t shy away from,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an exclusive interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “But it would have to be a good situation for me. It would depend totally on what the situation was.”
So what kind of situation would meet the all-time NBA scoring leader’s goals? Financial upside would be necessary, he said.
“Something where I had some equity in the team, so that what I would get an opportunity to benefit from it,” he said.
If Abdul-Jabbar does invest in an NBA team, he said he would want to play a role in setting a team’s direction.
“Oh yeah, I’d have to have some say,” he told me. “I wouldn’t have to have all of it.”
Abdul-Jabbar was in Milwaukee on Monday to promote his role in a new Wisconsin Department of Tourism ad campaign that teams him with “Airplane!” co-star Robert Hays and directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. In the retro commercial, Abdul-Jabbar reprises his role as pilot “Roger Murdock,” with he and Hays’ character marveling at Wisconsin scenery from their cockpit view.
Part of the joke is Abdul-Jabbar’s mock second-guessing of his decision after six seasons to leave Milwaukee in 1975, when he pressured the Bucks into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five more championship rings by teaming up with Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and the rest of the “Showtime” Lakers, but the Bucks haven’t returned to The Finals since winning the title in 1970-71 with a team featuring NBA legend Oscar Robertson and a young Abdul-Jabbar.
So it rang a little hollow when the Hall of Fame center spoke with Kirchen about the challenge faced by Kohl to build and maintain a winner in a small market.
“I think he’s trying to run it the right way,” Abdul-Jabbar said [of Kohl]. “They just haven’t been able to get the talented people they need to be more successful. I don’t know where the fault there lies. But it’s all about getting, identifying and signing up the talented players.
Trouble is, Milwaukee can no more entice big-name free agents now than it could hold onto its sky-hooking superstar 40 years ago.