Winters shows up early
Former Bucks sharpshooter makes homecoming
Brian Winters was among the first ones to show up to practice.
And if the familiar intense expression was any indication, it was time well spent.
Some things never change, even after 30 years.
Winters, one of seven Milwaukee Bucks players to have his jersey number retired, was out on the practice tees nearly an hour before the Bucks’ annual golf tournament to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Wisconsin got under way at Brookfield’s Westmoor Country Club on September 23.
Winters played eight seasons for the Bucks and retired in 1983 as the franchise’s all-time leader in assists with 2,479 (he now ranks third). Three decades since he last played for Milwaukee, he still ranks eighth all-time among Bucks scorers with 9,743 points, fifth in games played with 582 and fifth in steals with 718.
His jersey No. 32 became the third to be retired by the Bucks, being raised to the rafters on Oct. 28, 1983.
The sharp-shooting guard was acquired by the Bucks from the Los Angeles Lakers on June 16, 1975, along with center Elmore Smith, forward Dave Meyers, swingman Junior Bridgeman and future considerations in exchange for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley.
Winters took time out to reminisce about his trade to the Bucks and other memorable career moments before joining several of his former teammates on the links.
"Obviously, Kareem is one of the all-time greats -- maybe the best center ever, for that matter,” Winters said. “When you’re involved in a trade for a guy of that caliber, you understand just how good he is.
“Elmore Smith, Dave Meyers, Junior Bridgeman and I came here, and it was a good trade for both teams. I think it helped both franchises. Obviously the Lakers went on to win championships after Magic (Johnson) got there. It took them a few years to get to that point, too.”
A review of National Basketball Association history will reveal that teams that have lost players of Abdul-Jabbar’s caliber – of which there aren’t many – have typically bottomed out. Some needed many years to return to respectability.
The Bucks, who had played in the NBA Finals in 1974, needed some time to rebuild after trading away one of the game’s all-time greats, but they did manage to win a seventh consecutive division championship the following season as young veterans Winters and Smith and rookies Meyers and Bridgeman settled into key roles.
Everyone knew the four players were blessed with promising talent. They quickly proved that they possessed mental toughness, too.
"We did,” Winters said. “I think with big trades now, they're usually done for salary cap reasons. Teams don't want players; they want draft picks or future considerations
"At that time, that wasn't the case. It was players for players. It was different in that regard. Elmore and I were experienced players. Junior was a rookie who became a heck of a player. Dave Meyers gave us five good years here before he decided he didn't want to play anymore. I played nine years.
“It was a good run. The trade was good for both teams in that neither of us had drop all the way back and win only 12 to 15 games for the next year or two."
Milwaukee went 49-33 in 1979-80 to begin a run of seven more consecutive division championships. And Winters played a vital role in unleashing that run, averaging better than 19 points per game in three consecutive seasons. He was an NBA All-Star in 1975-76 and in 1977-78 and helped the Bucks reach the playoffs six times.
"We had our runs,” Winters said. “We got to the conference finals in '83, my last year. Unfortnately, I was a little beat-up at that point. I had hurt my back.
"But I have great memories. I enjoyed playing here. I enjoyed the guys I played with. We had a great deal of stability here during the years I played. Junior, Sidney (Moncrief) and I were here for a long time. Bob Lanier was here for a long time. Marques Johnson was here.
“We had a great core of guys. That's what I remember. You're never going to win anything by yourself in the NBA. You've got to have good players around you. Hopefully I complemented them and they complemented me."
Following Winters’ retirement as an NBA player, he served as an assistant coach for two seasons under Pete Carril at Princeton University.
He returned to the NBA as an assistant to Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens and held that position for seven years before working as an assistant for the Atlanta Hawks for two seasons.
In 1995, he was named the head coach of the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies. He held that position for one and one-half years before going on to coach with the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors.
He served as head coach of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever from 2004-07, compiling a 78-58 regular-season record and leading the franchise to its first consecutive-year playoff appearances.
Winters served as an assistant to Mike Dunlap with the Charlotte Bobcats last season.
“We made the team better, but they decided to make a change and unfortunately I'm out again,” Winters said.
The Bucks all-time great welcomed the opportunity to revisit Milwaukee and reunite with his former teammates.
"I've participated in this event for a few years, whenever I've had the chance,” he said. “I live in Colorado. I had some time, so I came back to take part again this year. I like to play golf in my spare time, and this (the Bucks' golf outing to benefit Cystic Fibrosis research) is always a great cause, plus I always enjoy coming back to Milwaukee and seeing some old, familiar faces."
And his shots were probably right on the money, too.