The Milwaukee Bucks are an abject mess. The team was miserably constructed by general manager John Hammond at owner Herb Kohl’s behest, built to replicate the team’s sub-.500 2012-13 run to an eighth seed and eventual playoff sweep, a season that did the fans no favors while they waited out yet another year without a franchise star. The front office did well to not cling to ex-Bucks like Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick as they entered free agency, but replacing them with O.J. Mayo and other assorted veterans was a huge miss, and paying Larry Sanders as a franchise player hasn’t panned out thus far.
Sanders confirmed that he’s out for the rest of the regular season on Wednesday, a regular season that has seen the Bucks lose 55 of 68 games. Even the woeful Philadelphia 76ers, constructed to lose and owners of an ongoing 21-game losing streak, still have a better record than the team Hammond and Kohl put together in hopes of making the playoffs.
There have been rumblings for over a decade that Kohl was open to selling his Bucks, just as long as the incoming owners kept the team in Milwaukee. Earlier this season Kohl admitted to be seeking minority investors for the squad that he has owned for nearly three decades, but no official movement on that front has been noted by a Bucks leadership group that is still trying to figure out how to replace or at the very least update an ancient and partly-broken Bradley Center.
The league’s worst record and at the very best the Conference’s worst arena haven’t gotten in the way of interest, though. With NBA team valuations at an all time high, the Bucks are still drawing suitors. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Don Walker confirmed as much on Wednesday:
"It's a pretty robust process," the source said. "There's a lot of interest in the NBA and this is the only team on the market. There is a considerable amount of interest.
"It's safe to say that anybody with the means and interest in the NBA has inquired. A lot of phone calls from around the country," the source said.
Asked if local investors had inquired about investing in the Bucks, the source said "if you draw a circle with Milwaukee as the center, there would be a significant amount of interest within striking distance of the center."
The source declined to say whether Kohl, who has owned the team since 1985, had been talking to investors who want a majority interest in the team, or a minority interest. In December, Kohl said he could not say whether the search for investors might lead to him giving up majority ownership.
This comes on the heels of an interview that hit the interwebs on Tuesday afternoon, quoting former Buck legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as wanting to get involved on an ownership level with the team he once forced to trade him. From a CNBC interview, courtesy BrewHoop:
The team is probably going to change hands soon, I don't know what's going to happen specifically, but I'm keeping an eye on it. I might possibly try to be involved, it would be great to be able to help the franchise where, that I worked for, get back to the top. They deserve it, the Wisconsin sports fans are incredible, and they deserve a first-rate team.
(Again, this is the same guy that forced the Bucks to trade him to either Los Angeles or New York in 1975.)
One of the players the Bucks received in the deal for Kareem was scoring forward Junior Bridgeman, who enjoyed an excellent career with Milwaukee. Bridgeman later entered the fast food ownership fray, to a very successful degree. This is why Kohl recently reached out to the player whose number he retired upon the end of Bridgeman’s playing career.
According to the Restaurant Franchise Monitor, Bridgeman is Wendy's second largest franchisee. And two years ago, Forbes magazine said Bridgeman was the 18th wealthiest African-American in the country, with an estimated net worth in excess of $200 million.
Bridgeman, reached for comment in Louisville, declined to comment.
Bridgeman has one potential sticking point, though it could be easily solved. Bridgeman is a minority investor in the Sacramento Kings. Under NBA bylaws, investors cannot hold financial positions in more than one team.
Kohl has not set a timetable for finding new investors. And he has not set a limit on the number of investors. But if he were to bring Bridgeman back into the Bucks' fold, it would be a big coup for Kohl.
The idea of former players swooping in to save the Bucks from themselves is a noble one, but in reality it’s going to take far more than these two big names to make this work.
Any new ownership group has to at once placate Kohl with some sort of promise to keep the Bucks in Wisconsin, which everyone should be in favor of, even with the looming possibility of a potentially lucrative move to Seattle acting as a significant option. Despite the “robust” talk of major interest in a team whose valuation could hop up over half a billion dollars despite its relatively small market, this frustration along with no clear resolution for what to do with where the Bucks play while in Milwaukee still stands as a significant stepping stone.
Nobody is falling over themselves to hand some sort of front office role to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And Bridgeman likely isn’t keen to spend about twice his net worth for a business that doesn’t hand him the guaranteed earnings that a double bacon cheeseburger or Texas Cheese Fries with Chili perpetually roll in. And Seattle can’t even get their foot in the door, so don’t bother asking.
Yes, interest might be “robust” for the only NBA team on the market, but that doesn’t mean things are going to change in Milwaukee any time soon.
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