No. 32 to take center stage March 18

No. 32 to take center stage tonight
Bucks to rededicate Brian Winters’ retired jersey
by Truman Reed / special to

Brian Winters played eight seasons with the Bucks and averaged 16.7 points during that time. (Getty)
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March 18, 2008

MILWAUKEE -- When the Milwaukee Bucks granted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s trade request back on June 16, 1975, they had to wonder how long it would take them to recover.

They were, after all, saying good-bye to the centerpiece of their 1971 World Championship team, a future Hall-of-Famer who would go on to become the National Basketball Association’s all-time scoring king.

As it turned out, the 1975-76 Bucks not only matched the victory total the team achieved during Abdul-Jabbar’s last season in Milwaukee, but won the Midwest Division.

The Bucks went on to win five divisional titles and reached the NBA Playoffs in six of the eight seasons following Kareem’s departure.

As the franchise continues to celebrate its 40th anniversary, it will honor one of the individuals who was most instrumental in carrying on its winning tradition during those years.

Brian Winters, one of the four players who came to the Bucks in the 1975 Abdul-Jabbar trade, will revisit Milwaukee to have his retired jersey No. 32 rededicated at halftime of Milwaukee’s 7 p.m. game against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, March 18, at the Bradley Center.

Winters became the third Bucks player to have his jersey number retired back on Oct. 28, 1983.

“It was a nice honor to have been thought of in that way, that you had a good career and that they want to honor you by putting your number up there,” Winters said. “It’s always a pleasure to come back to Milwaukee. I still have a lot of family and friends here, and there are a lot of good memories. It’s always a great feeling to come back to Milwaukee.”

Winters, a prep All-American at famed Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, New York and a collegiate All-American at the University of South Carolina, broke into the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1974 and made the league’s All-Rookie Team. He spent the final eight years of his pro career in a Bucks uniform.

Through eight seasons in Milwaukee, he averaged 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 582 games.

Winters became an NBA All-Star in his first season in Milwaukee when he averaged 18.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

He was also an All-Star in 1978, when he posted averages of 19.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists. His scoring and assist averages that year were both career highs.

Winters still ranks among Milwaukee’s all-time leaders in points (9,743, eighth), field goals (4,131, sixth), games (582, fifth), assists (2,479, third), minutes (18,422, fifth), steals (718, fifth), free throw percentage (.843, ninth) and 3-point field goal percentage (.363, tenth).

Few if any NBA teams could match the Bucks’ arsenal of sharpshooters during Winters’ years in Milwaukee.

He played with Jon McGlocklin, whom many rank among the purest perimeter shooters in league history, during his first year in town.

His fellow deadeyes also included Junior Bridgeman, who accompanied him in the Abdul-Jabbar trade; Bob Dandridge, Jim Price and Alex English during the early years and Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and big Bob Lanier during the latter ones.

As the NBA game has evolved, you don’t find marksmen of their caliber on the same team anymore. Shooting technique and proficiency has declined at the college and high school levels as well.

“I don’t think there’s any question it needs more work,” Winters said. “Players in this day and age are much more athletic, quicker, faster, stronger and jump higher, but I don’t think you necessarily have the skill level, particularly with shooting, that I think players years ago once had.

“When you watch NBA games, the net doesn’t move a lot. The ball hits the rim all the time. It’s not really a fun game to watch. People want to see the ball go in, and hopefully that’s going to improve.”

Winters smiled when, during a visit to the Bradley Center, he cast that steely-eyed gaze of his up at the banners of the retired Bucks’ numbers hanging from the rafters. He knows he is in some elite company.

“Some I played with and some I didn’t,” he said. “Jon McGlocklin, I played with a little bit. Junior Bridgeman, Sidney Moncrief and Bob Lanier, those are the guys I mainly played with. They were all excellent players in their own right, and all good guys on and off the court.

“I enjoyed them as teammates. Hopefully they made me a little better and I made them a little better. They’re all good people.”

Winters’ pro totals would no doubt have been higher had the 3-point shot been part of the landscape throughout his career. The NBA did not adopt it until he had been in the league for five seasons. He did manage to enter the Bucks record books by converting the first four-point play in team history.

Winters was far from being a long-range shooting specialist, though. Few players who have worn the NBA logo have been more proficient at shooting the runner or the pull-up jumper than Winters was. He had a knack for getting to the free-throw line, and made better than 84 percent of his foul shots.

Most importantly to Winters, he was an essential part of a winning franchise that functioned as a team.

“I think it was to be that way,” he said. “It’s great to have great skill. You have to have it to win in the NBA at a high level. It’s required. You also have to have guys who get along, who want to do the little things that make you win. They’re willing to make the extra pass, get on the floor after a loose ball, be willing to work on the defensive end.

“All of the guys I played with had a commitment to that, and we stuck together for a number of years. I think that’s what’s missing somewhat in the NBA these days. So many players move around, and teams don’t get a chance to really grow together. We were together for a number of years, and that’s how you become good and win over a period of time.”

Following his retirement as a player in 1983, Winters spent two seasons as an assistant coach under the legenary Pete Carril at Princeton University before becoming an assistant coach under Lenny Wilkens with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1986.

He was an NBA assistant for nine seasons, with the Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks, before being named head coach of the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995. He coached the Grizzlies for two seasons, then served stints as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors before becoming the Warriors’ head coach in 2001.

His most recent coaching experience came with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, whom he guided to their first-ever consecutive playoff appearances in 2006 and ‘07.

Winters and his wife, Julie, have six children -- daughters Cara, Keelin and Meghan, and sons Brendan, Kevin and Ryan.