I’ve followed the Bucks for fifteen years now, unashamedly jumping on the Bucks bandwagon during Milwaukee’s memorable run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. As an 11 year old at the time, with very little basketball knowledge, I was completely captivated by the perfect shooting style of young star, Ray Allen, who to this day remains my favourite player. I continued to follow the Bucks through the next four years, tracking box scores and reading articles wherever I could, trying to learn, with next to no media coverage in Australia.
It was in the offseason of 2005 that the Bucks and Australia would come together in what was hoped to be a franchise changing moment for Milwaukee. Coming off a 30-52 season, the Bucks went into the lottery with the 6th best odds of drawing the number one pick, 6.3 percent to be exact. Luck was with the Bucks that day, they climbed five spots to draw the number one pick and get first crack at that year’s draft class, every team’s draft dream.
I remember it clear as day, that night on TV, the 6pm news announced Milwaukee had won the rights to the number one pick. It was a stunning sight, basketball rarely (if ever) getting any coverage, was covering the Milwaukee Bucks.
The reason? 7 foot Australian center, Andrew Bogut, was widely tipped to go number one in the 2005 draft.
Bogut did eventually get selected number one in the draft and so began a twelve year connection between country and club, still going strong today. The current version of the Milwaukee Bucks hold two Australian’s on their roster, Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker. Both key rotation players and spot starters on a team trying to climb into contention in the east.
The Andrew Bogut Milwaukee era is one I will remember fondly, though frustratingly, little success as a team was achieved on the court. But this was the time I went from being a fan, to a die-hard. In these years I went from listening to brilliant radio calls of Ted Davis online (I was once mentioned during a broadcast, a highlight of my young life to that point), to watching the games online with league pass, and since 2007, could probably count the games missed on two hands.
Bogut, to this day, remains a much maligned player in Bucks history, absolutely unfairly in my opinion. In seven seasons with the deer, Bogut suited up 408 times, averaging a near double-double with 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Unfortunately for both Milwaukee and Andrew, injuries were a constant theme in his time with the Bucks. In his rookie season, Bogut played all 82 games, only twice more in his thirteen-year career after that has he managed more then 70. Battling serious back, arm and ankle injuries over the course of his seven year stint in Milwaukee, he was only able to average 58 appearances per season.
Despite this, Bogut completely changed the landscape of basketball coverage in Australia. Committed to showcasing our Aussie star, the Bucks became fixtures in nightly news sports reports, newspapers and radio coverage. Until that time I had never before seen a Milwaukee game on cable TV over here. Suddenly it was a semi regular event. On free to air TV, Bucks TV aired each Monday, a 30 minute show dedicated purely to the recent happenings in Bucks basketball. It was absolute heaven for me.
I mentioned earlier that Bogut remains a controversial figure with Bucks fans; the debate will remain endless on how his time in Milwaukee will be viewed. But I am certain it would be spoken about differently if not for one horrific incident on April 3rd, 2010. The Bucks were on an absolute tear heading into that night’s contest at home against Phoenix, winning 24 of their last 34 games, surging toward the playoffs, set to begin in only two weeks time. In the midst of a career year, Bogut was dominant as usual on the defensive end but had become almost unstoppable on offense. The Bucks were able to dump the ball into the post, knowing a double team would come and the sensational passing ability of the big Aussie would find an open man or he would simply score himself. Racking up 13 games with 20+ points and 10+ rebounds for the season, it felt like Bogut had legitimately arrived. In fact, he had.
Leaking out after a block attempt, Carlos Delfino found Bogut streaming to the rim with a perfect full court pass, and without taking a dribble Bogut went up to finish, Amare Stoudemire in hot pursuit. Bogut was slightly nudged and he wasn’t able to hang onto the rim, almost flipping in mid air and landing with his entire 260 pound frame crashing down on his arm. It was destroyed, and so was the Bucks season. Even just remembering this horrific moment is extremely tough to think about. Jim Paschke and Jon Mcglocklin were horrified announcing the game, the Bradley Center went deathly silent, and I remember simply switching off my computer in Australia and sitting there, unable to believe what I just witnessed.
Bogut was elite that season, he received third team All-NBA honours, and in my opinion should have won the Defensive Player Of The Year award. To this day I find myself wondering how far we could have gone in 2010, everything was just clicking.
He returned the following year but he wasn’t the same, the elbow clearly caused issues for him, rarely did he use the arm for anything on game day. Bogut courageously battled through 65 games that season, averaging a double-double but the Bucks never regained the same momentum, and missed the playoffs. Managing only 12 games the next season, Bogut fractured his ankle and then was traded to Golden State. The Bogut era was over. A sad ending, but nonetheless a time i’ll never forget. Bogut had played a major role in bringing the NBA, basketball in general and especially Milwaukee to light in Australia in ways that will be forever appreciated.
The Bucks remained a middling team over the next few seasons, my commitment never wavering but tested almost daily as horrible trades, contracts and performances remained the norm. Australian basketball continued to be on the up and up however, as more and more Aussies began to enter the league and play a role for their respective teams. Patty Mills and Aron Baynes winning championship rings with San Antonio in 2014, Bogut getting his much deserved title with the Warriors in 2015 and Matthew Dellavedova playing a key role in Cleveland’s historic win in 2016.
The Aussie connection with Milwaukee came back with a vengeance in the off-season of 2016, with the Bucks signing two Australians in a space of a fortnight. On June 23, to the shock of almost everyone, the Bucks selected Sudanese born Australian, Thon Maker with the 10th overall pick in the draft. The long 7’1″ Maker, with the ability to handle the ball and shoot the from the outside appeared to fit in with Milwaukee’s all-length roster. The thought of the ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker protecting the rim and running the floor for years to come was a mouth watering prospect too good for GM John Hammond to ignore.
Then, on July 2nd, the Bucks signed restricted free agent Matthew Dellevedova to a 4 year, 38 million dollar deal that Cleveland decided against matching, meaning the Bucks would roll into the 2017 season with two Australians on the roster, back in the spotlight down under.
The Bucks made a late season run to reach the playoffs last year, shocking the Toronto Raptors in forcing the series to six games but eventually falling short. Thon announced himself to huge National TV audiences around America with a series of impressive performances, his defensive presence causing all sorts of issues for Toronto and his intensity as always, was infectious. The Milwaukee fans at the Bradley Center could be heard yelling “playoff Dellyyyy!” repeatedly as Dellavedova’s well renowned defensive intensity cranked up even further. Both Australians making their mark on the the series.
This era of Milwaukee basketball remains unfinished business, hopefully for Bucks fans in Wisconsin and all over the world, one with a story book ending.
Unfortunately more recent data wasn’t available, but according the the Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au), children’s participation in organised basketball rose from 7.4 to 9.2 percent between 2006 and 2012. Approximately 30,000 more children enrolled with teams. This took basketball from ranking 7th to 4th in terms of organised sport participation nation wide. The National Basketball League, Australia’s professional competition continues to be on the rise, attracting former NBA players in recent years such as Al Harrington and Josh Childress. Terrance Ferguson, OKC’s first round pick in this year’s draft, chose to play for the Adelaide 36ers instead of going to college in America. Combine this with the Sydney Kings, Melbourne United and the Brisbane Bullets heading over to take on NBA squads in the pre season last October and it’s very clear that Australian basketball is entering a golden age.
I first made the trip to Milwaukee for the 2015 playoffs first round series against Chicago and have returned approximately 10 times since that first trip, already creating so many fond memories (I did meet my partner Alison in town!), Milwaukee becoming somewhat of a second home for me, desperate to see as many games live as possible. I was fortunate enough to be at the Bradley Center’s Australia Day celebration last season, coinciding with my country’s National Day, marking the anniversary of the first fleet’s arrival to Australian shores in 1788. It was a really fun and cool experience to have the Australian themed entertainment and also the fact that two Australian’s were starting at the time for the Bucks. It’s never lost on me the impact the people mentioned above and the Bucks franchise have had on my life and Basketball in general in Australia. My love for the Bucks has only grown stronger and stronger since I first saw Ray Allen swishing triples at will back in 2001, and will only continue to grow as I hope to one day see the Bucks lift the Larry O’Brien trophy as champions of the NBA.
The fact that the Bucks have had, for the better part of 12 years, an Australian on their roster, hasn’t had any bearing on my support for the team. But, I am proud that in a big way, the Milwaukee Bucks have contributed to the NBA becoming mainstream and popular in Australia to the point that media coverage and live game telecasts have never been more accessible.
Through Bogut, Delly, and Thon, the Bucks have been put on the map in Australia. And for that, the Bucks have an everlasting connection with Australia, that’s a credit to all involved and down right bloody awesome in my mind.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus.