Were the Bucks hosed by the NBA in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals?
Milwaukee's early-season success conjures memories of our last playoff run
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In spite of what some wisenheimers predicted, the Milwaukee Bucks have gotten off to a decent start this season. While they lost a barnbarner Monday to the Dallas Mavericks 115-113, snapping a four-game winning streak, the Bucks have actually been fun to watch so far. Seeing Brandon Jennings rip it up at the Bradley Center conjures memories of the team’s golden age, which really wasn’t that long ago—back during the 2000-01 season, the Bucks stood at the precipice of the NBA Finals. Lead by George Karl, who currently overlooks the title-contending Denver Nuggets, the Bucks were anchored by the “Big 3” of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glenn Robinson. The Bucks won 52 games that year, captured the Central Division title, and pushed the Philadelphia 76ers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Since then, the Bucks have been in the proverbial toilet, and their ’01 playoff run has been mostly forgotten. That is, until ESPN columnist Bill Simmons mentioned it in an interview last week with The A.V. Club when discussing disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s book Blowing The Whistle: The Culture Of Fraud In The NBA, which alleges that refs routinely meddle with the outcomes of games. “I think the range from, I’m going to say, ’99 to 2002 had probably six of the 10 fishiest games that we’ve ever seen,” Simmons said. He went on to mention the Bucks-Sixers series, and suggested we “Google the Bucks and the Sixers and see all the stories that come up about that series.”
Unfortunately, we were only able to find one ESPN story quoting Allen about his frustration over the 76ers getting all the calls in the series. Allen believed that the NBA favored the 76ers in a match-up with the Western Conference (and eventual league) champions Los Angeles Lakers. "I think there's no question about that. The league, as a marketing machine, the bottom line is about making money," Allen said. "It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows that Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A."
We also found this clip of Jim Rome, um, talkin’ smack about the series and agreeing with Allen.
Allen’s comments came after a crushing one-point loss in Game 5, when the Bucks were killed by two flagrant fouls and one technical foul. The loss put the Bucks in 3-2 hole, and while they eventually tied the series, they lost on Philly’s home court in Game 7, when Milwaukee played without suspended forward Scott Williams. To this day Bucks fans allege that the refs unfairly affected the series, calling more fouls on the Bucks than the 76ers. Fans on the losing side always complain, but Simmons isn't exactly known as a Bucks backer.
Considering how bad the they have been ever since their thwarted playoff run, it’s worth asking: Were the Bucks hosed? And if the team somehow doesn’t fade and makes a playoff run, will the NBA hose us again? It would be nice to have some answers before we start caring about Milwaukee basketball again.