By Jon Hartzell, NBA.com
Herb Kohl’s pending sale of the Milwaukee Bucks to hedge-fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wes Edens for approximately $550 million, plus a $100 million gift from Kohl and $100 million commitment from Lasry and Edens to build a new arena, firmly cements the Bucks’ future in Milwaukee.
“My priority has always been and will continue to be keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee,” said Kohl during an afternoon press conference on Wednesday. “This announcement reinforces that Milwaukee is and will continue to be the home of the Bucks. Wes and Marc agree, and they share my commitment to the long-term success of this franchise in Milwaukee.”
This isn’t the first time Kohl has stepped up to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.
During the heyday of the franchise – when they won 50 or more games each season from 1980-87 – Bucks’ principle owner Jim Fitzgerald was forced to put the franchise up for sale in 1985 after a failed business venture (a premium TV service called SportsVue started with then Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig). Fitzgerald quickly received offers from Minneapolis, Toronto, Miami and Santa Ana to buy the Bucks away from Milwaukee. Despite his preference to keep the team in Wisconsin, seemingly no local investors were willing to throw money at a franchise which was reportedly incapable of making a revenue in the incredibly small MECCA Arena which only sat 11,052 people.
“Herb was the only individual who pursued this diligently,” Fitzgerald said in 1985. “Milwaukee is very fortunate to have Herb Kohl.”
Kohl purchased the franchise for approximately $18 million (the highest price for an NBA franchise pre-expansion) on March 1, 1985. Even then, he knew the importance of the Bucks to Milwaukee.
“Had it not been for Herb Kohl, it would be inevitable that it would not be the Milwaukee Bucks today,” former NBA commissioner David Stern said during an interview in 1987. “He stepped in and did it not because it projected out to be such a great investment but because that was the price to keep the team in Milwaukee.”
The arena situation in 1985 was quickly settled when Lloyd and Jane Pettit privately financed the entire construction costs of the Bradley Center. It doesn’t seem likely the Bucks will be so fortunate this time around, but the $200 million commitment from Lasry, Edens and Kohl will surely help initiate the arena discussion.
The Bucks have struggled under Kohl. But his commitment to the franchise, City of Milwaukee and state of Wisconsin has not wavered. Which is why, after yesterday’s announcement, this quote from prominent Milwaukee real estate developer Marvin Fishman in 1985 still holds true:
“This purchase now by Herbie Kohl ensures that this team will never leave Milwaukee.”