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Retiring Marques Johnson’s Number is Long Overdue

Dec. 20, 2016
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Photo via prohoopshistory.com

It has been over 30 years since Marques Johnson donned a Bucks uniform. As a lifelong Bucks fan, I place him in the illustrious company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sydney Moncrief as one of the three best players to have been employed by the Bucks organization. I enthusiastically recommend the Bucks retire his number to acknowledge his exemplary on court achievements for the Bucks franchise and professional basketball as a whole.


Undisputed Facts 

In the history of the Bucks organization, Jabbar, Johnson and Moncrief were the only Bucks players selected to the All-NBA First Team, and Johnson was twice selected to the All-NBA Second Team. He was selected as an All-Star five times (four times with the Bucks and once with the Los Angeles Clippers) and in his second NBA season, he was the league's third leading scorer (25.6 PPG), behind George Gervin (29.6) and Lloyd Free (28.8). 

Johnson’s achievements continue to rank in the top ten for almost all significant statistical categories within the Bucks organization. He ranks first in offensive rebounds (1468), second in player efficiency (21.2) and is in a virtual tie for second in points per game (21.0). In addition, Johnson ranks third in total rebounds (3923) and defensive rebounds (2455). He is fourth in field goal percentage (.530), fifth in free throw made and sixth in total points (10,980).  Moreover, Johnson remains number seven in minutes played (18,240) and nine in games played (524). 


Double Standards for Off-Court Indiscretions 

It has been well been documented that in the 1970s and 80s the NBA had significant problems with some of its athletes for substance abuse and on/off court violence. Rumors abounded about Johnson’s substance abuse, which may explain why his number has yet to be retired by the franchise. However, he privately and professionally dealt with his substance abuse, redeemed himself and regained his status as a model athlete in Milwaukee and Los Angeles, and more recently as a broadcaster in both cities.     

I am perplexed at the ability of some of our professional franchises, media and fan’s ability to separate the professional from the personal. Local media and fans alike have overlooked, rewarded and supported athletes who have had gambling problems, been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, abused pain medication and used performance enhancing drugs. Unfortunately, media and fans appear to be willing to forgive some athletes but not others whose demons and problems have been made public. In the interest of justice and fairness, I believe that we should be consistent in our ability to forgive and support our outstanding athletes. There should be no double standard.

Johnson’s Impact and Legacy 

As an organization, the golden years of the Milwaukee Bucks featured the teams of the early 1970s with Jabbar, Bobby Dandridge, Oscar Robertson, etc. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the Bucks were perineal Central Division champs anchored by Johnson, Moncrief, Junior Bridgeman and Bob Lanier. Many sports enthusiasts and fans maintain that Johnson was the most famous Bucks player of the era.  

Posters of Johnson in his Bucks uniform adorned many bedroom walls, dorms and locker rooms throughout the State. In addition, you could find many youths wearing Adidas sporting wear because of him. Many young athletes admired and marveled at the national attention and notoriety that he received. Moreover, many African American boys emulated Johnson’s articulateness and highly polished and professional demeanor.

As a sports enthusiast and local historian, I am proud that the Bucks franchise has already acknowledged, by retiring their numbers, two players who were the best at their positions for several years (Jabbar at Center and Moncrief at Shooting Guard). It is now time for the Bucks to retire the number of its best Small Forward, Marques Johnson.

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