When former Seattle SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz decided he couldn’t be bothered to run an NBA team anymore, the Starbucks maven sold out the city that made him billions, hooking up with an ownership group from Oklahoma City to take over the SuperSonics. You know how that turned out.
Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl, for years, has turned down offers from various outside ownership groups to take over his team. Kohl wants the Bucks to stay in the only city they’ve known, and despite iffy play and a crumbling home arena, Kohl has somehow made it work.
The owner would like some help, though, which is why he’s courting outside ownership to help him guide the franchise to a more successful stratum. In Milwaukee, mind you, because Kohl is not going to allow any potential co-owner any inclination of moving the Bucks away from Wisconsin. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"We want to have as broad an interest as there is," Kohl said in an interview. "But there are these conditions. Anybody who is brought into ownership, if and when it happens, has to be committed fully to keeping the team here.
"This has been one of my life-long interests, the NBA and Milwaukee. And there is no way I would allow people under the Milwaukee Bucks tent unless they have full level of commitment to keeping the team here."
Kohl said additional ownership interests do not have to come from Milwaukee.
He said no negotiations are underway with any parties at this time and he is just beginning the process.
"My primary interest is to strengthen this franchise and make it even more certain that the Bucks will stay in Milwaukee," Kohl said.
The NBA quickly released a press statement from commissioner David Stern, discussing Kohl's intentions:
“Senator Kohl bought the Bucks in 1985 in order to ensure the team would remain in Milwaukee. During his extraordinary stewardship his goal remained the same -- to bring the fans of Wisconsin high-quality basketball from a team they would be proud to call their ‘home’ team. With this announcement, Senator Kohl continues his mission: to assure continuity of ownership by broadening its ownership base, and assuring that the fans of Wisconsin will enjoy NBA basketball and other events in a new state-of-the-art facility.”
Though the Bucks were put together by general manager John Hammond to compete for a lower-rung playoff spot, the team currently owns the worst record in the NBA. Complicating future prospects for the team is the frustration with the team’s longtime arena, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, one that came with an unorthodox revenue sharing plan between the team, the owners, and the city of Milwaukee.
The 25-year old arena is in desperate need of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of upkeep, as Center CEO Steve Costello explained in an interview with the Journal Sentinel earlier in December:
During the tour, Costello noted much of the building's original mechanical equipment is still in place. Two 500-gallon water heaters that provide hot water to the 550,000-square-foot facility have extensive rust near the bottom.
In the chiller room, the staff is using the same equipment that came with the building in 1988. The arena's chillers use a refrigerant that is no longer permitted to be manufactured or sold in the United States. Existing supplies of the refrigerant can be recycled or reused for use in older systems like the ones at the arena.
Outside, the lead-coated copper roof is surrounded by a gutter system. At each corner of the building there are rubber roofs with concrete pavers. Those pavers are breaking up in places and, in one location, the concrete more closely resembles gravel.
At some of the arena's exit doors, rust has worked its way through the metal. The deterioration could be a threat to fire safety and security, Costello said.
And that soaring atrium glass that greets visitors? It's beautiful to behold, but in some places it leaks and needs to be constantly maintained, Costello said.
Prices for NBA teams have skyrocketed over the last few years, with teams in Sacramento, Memphis and Golden State exchanging hands for ridiculous upticks in what they were initially valued at. The Journal-Sentinel suggests that Kohl is looking for minority partners to buy a small stake in the team he’s owned since 1985, with the potential for those minority owners to eventually buy the franchise in full.
Kohl, who turned down a chance to sell the Bucks to Michael Jordan in 2003, declined to run for re-election as Senator in 2012, preferring to focus on his team and his various philanthropic pursuits. His squad has made it out of the first round of the playoffs just once since the 1980s, and that swoon combined with Kohl’s insistence on sustaining a mediocre club rather than rebuilding have influenced the efforts of SaveOurBucks.com. The website, which lauds Kohl for his work in keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, still would prefer that the owner encourage a proper rebuilding project, the subsequent high draft picks that would result, and a shot at something more than a 41-win window.
Inadvertently, Kohl’s Bucks may finish with the league’s worst record and a shot at any number of rock solid prospects in the 2014 NBA draft, the best possible scenario for a fan base that has been through way too much. The eventual prize in next June’s draft could go a long way toward dragging this team into the second or third round of the playoffs at some point, and Bucks fans have proven to be willing to show up to root on a playoff participant with actual upside, as they did during the team’s emotional ‘Fear the Deer’ run to the 2010 playoffs.
Those ardent fans won’t build the team a new arena, though, or stop potential new Bucks owners from swooping in to take the team to Seattle.
Luckily, Bucks fans have Herb Kohl working on their side, dogged in his insistence that the Bucks stay in Milwaukee. They may have misgivings about how he runs the team from a personnel standpoint, but you can’t dismiss Kohl’s steadfast work in making sure “Milwaukee” stays in front of “Bucks,” no matter the owner.
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