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Steve Aschburner

Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings went public with his ruminations, something an ex-Bucks great decided against in 1975.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Trade demands, rumors, talk, talk, talk ... oh, for 1975

Posted Feb 14 2012 1:50PM

Brandon Jennings, the Milwaukee Bucks' slender and creative point guard, let it be known the other day that maybe, just maybe, he's going to consider playing elsewhere after the summer of 2014. That's the soonest Jennings can become an unrestricted free agent and he wants everyone around the NBA to know that he is keeping his options open, "knowing that the time is coming up."

Twenty-nine months out? The Bucks aren't exactly on the clock with this one. More like on the sun dial.

"I'm doing my homework on big-market teams," Jennings told ESPN's Chris Broussard in an email interview last Friday. "I'm not saying I won't [sign an extension with Milwaukee] and I'm not saying I will. I'm just keeping my options open."

A few hours later, Jennings clarified his remarks. "I never said I was leaving Milwaukee, though," he said. "That's one thing I want to get cleared up. I don't know what the future holds."

Who does? But it still sure is fun to talk about. Half of everything that happens in the NBA is about the future. A trade, a contract, a signing. Who's getting hired, who's getting fired. Tomorrow's basketball news today!

The Jennings stories hit on the eve of Milwakee's game against the Orlando Magic. "When you start seeing other players like Dwight Howard or CP3 [Chris Paul], you start thinking," Jennings in the ESPN piece.

Howard's obsession with his future has squatted on Orlando's 2011-12 season. So it was a year ago with Carmelo Anthony, shoving the Denver Nuggets' business aside while charting his course to the New York Knicks. So it might have been this season with Paul and the New Orleans Hornets, if NBA commissioner David Stern and Hornets executives hadn't executed that deft L.A. switcheroo as rapidly as they did.

But here's a message for the young businessmen of pro basketball from a highly regarded veteran NBA executive, delivered in a tale that relates to both Milwaukee (Jennings) and the best big man in the game (Howard). It's from 37 years ago, a serious step into the past for a league so caught up in the future:

When the Bucks traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers in June 1975, in one of the NBA's all-time blockbuster deals, the inner workings of that move were kept under wraps for 9 months. By mutual agreement.

Media? Blacked out. Rumors? Snuffed.

"What a lot of people don't realize is, he told us on Oct. 4 that he wanted to be traded," Wayne Embry, the Bucks' former general manager, said by phone from his Arizona home. "He said there was no negotiating, no talking him out of it. It was just, 'For certain, I need to be traded. Milwaukee is just not compatible. I need something more.' "

The Bucks -- that is, Embry, club president Bill Alverson and founder Wes Pavalon -- met for about four hours with Abdul-Jabbar and notorious UCLA booster Sam Gilbert (there on the player's behalf) at the Sheraton hotel in Wauwatosa, a suburb west of Milwaukee, two weeks before the 1974-75 season began.

The team's choice was simple: Make this happen or see Abdul-Jabbar jump to the American Basketball Association. The ABA still was a threat in 1975, in spite of financial internal bleeding. In fact, it might have seen Kareem as more of a savior at that point than it had when he came out of UCLA in 1968. Back then, the rebel league with the red-white-and-blue ball had gotten all 11 teams to kick in about $100,000 each, raising the $1 million or so its owners figured they would need to entice the 7-foot-2 center. The plan? Let the young fellow choose whichever ABA team he wanted to play for. His mere presence in the league would boost them all.

"I talked to him several times to get updates on his thinking," Embry said. "I didn't give up all hope of re-signing him. I let him know that he was the franchise and if it meant that I go or Larry Costello, the coach at the time, had to go, we'd work that out. He said, 'No, it has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with Larry. It has all to do with the fact that I need the change.' "

Before that hotel meeting on Oct. 4 ended, everyone in the room agreed: This must be kept confidential. Keep it out of the media. "That would allow us to do our thing and maximize our return," Embry said. "Nothing came out until March and we'd already made a deal, pretty much, when it finally got released. ... I guess people just assumed [he would re-sign]. When [Milwaukee Sentinel sportswriter] Rel Bochet and those guys started calling me, I would say, 'Nothing's official.' "

National NBA writer Peter Vecsey of the New York Post had covered the ABA for years and was in his second season of covering the Knicks. "Like everyone else, including the Bucks' two beat writers, I didn't have the foggiest idea Kareem had asked out until shortly before the trade became official," Vecsey wrote in January 2011, "and still knew very few of the pertinent particulars until Embry agreed to share them."

The gag order extended to the select group of clubs Embry contacted about the legendary center. "We talked to three teams seriously and I inquired with a couple others," the longtime exec said. "We told them about Kareem's commitment and our commitment and said, 'We'll talk. But if anything leaks to the media, you're out of it.' "

After discussions with New York and Atlanta, Embry talked with Lakers GM Pete Newell. Some time after that, his phone rang and the deal gained momentum. Embry, Newell and a few others met at an airport hotel in Denver and cobbled together the framework of a deal. When the smoke cleared, Abdul-Jabbar would head to L.A. with backup Wes Wesley, with now-rebuilding Milwaukee getting center Elmore Smith, forward Dave Meyers, swingman Junior Bridgeman and shooter Brian Winters.

For a long time -- maybe until the Carmelo deal and Denver's haul of talent -- the NBA verdict on Embry's trade was "best return anyone's ever gotten when forced to trade a superstar." At the press conference in Milwaukee, Alverson said: "It is a pleasure to announce our most difficult ordeal is over, and I have good news and bad news ..."

Keeping a lid on something like that now, Embry conceded, would be nearly impossible. "Back in those days, it was not as visible," he said. "You've got agents involved now and that complicates things a little bit.

"It's all changed, I know. You guys [media] have become more aggressive because of the competition that you have and the demands your bosses put on you. That's understandable. But I'll always respect Kareem for that. It allowed us to do our thing and really maximize our return, without all the publicity. Unlike today."

Now you have players granting e-mail interviews about their free-agency plans in 2014. And a GM like Orlando's Otis Smith trying to conduct his business in broad daylight. In Macy's window. At high noon. In a Twittersphere world.

So about that Dwight Howard situation ...

"Boy oh boy, I don't know," Embry said, chuckling. "It's hard. I feel bad for Otis."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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