Sir Sid: A Player for the Ages
n retrospect, Bill Clinton had nothing to worry about.
The Governor of Arkansas was a little concerned, though, when one of the most beloved athletes in the history of that state retired from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1989.
It seems some folks in Little Rock were throwing Sidney Moncrief's name around as a possible gubernatorial candidate, prompting Clinton to joke to the LA Times that "the only comfort I can take in having the smallest governor's salary in the nation is that it might stop Sidney Moncrief from running against me."
Articulate, intelligent, tireless and immensely popular, Moncrief seemed a natural for the life of a politician...if it weren't for one small problem.
"Sidney would not make a good politician," according to Don Nelson, "because he's too honest!"
Sir Sid pushing the ball up the court during his reign with the Bucks.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Though Moncrief admits no political aspirations, he would certainly find a groundswell of support in Milwaukee, where his 10 seasons with the Bucks cemented a sky-high approval rating from his coaches, his fans and his teammates.
"He was one of the most popular players," said Junior Bridgeman, a teammate for seven seasons, "because I think people recognize that every time he stepped on the floor he gave 150 percent, he played both ends of the floor. It wasn't always about scoring. He could beat you defensively. He would rebound. He would just give a total effort night in and night out and I think that's what endeared him to the fans, and endeared him to his teammates, and it was genuine."
Thirteen years after his retirement from the Bucks in 1989, Moncrief is still among the team's all-time leaders in points (11,594; 3rd), games played (695; 2nd), minutes played (22,054; 2nd), steals (874; 3rd), rebounds (3,447; 6th), assists (2,689; 2nd), field goals (4,000; 7th) and free throws (3,505; 1st).
He played on five All-Star teams (he is still the last Buck, in 1986, to start in an All-Star game), and made the All-NBA first or second team and the all-defensive teams for five straight seasons from 1981-86. He was twice named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, and was such a force that in 1984-85, the Bucks took a metaphorical leap by dressing Moncrief in a Superman outfit for the cover of the team's media guide.
If there was a Kryptonite, it was a degenerative knee condition that mightily contradicted his 36-inch vertical leap. In large part because of his knees, Moncrief missed 89 games over his final three seasons in Milwaukee, preventing him from ascending even higher statistically, if not literally.
"Well, I played for 10 years, so I can't say they kept me from anything," said Moncrief. "I was predicted not to play for more than two or three years, and I feel very blessed to have played for ten. But my knees certainly kept me back. They caused me maybe not to be as productive towards the latter part of my career as I should have been."
Moncrief compensated with ice bags, a high tolerance for pain and a strict fitness regimen to maximize his body's potential on the court.
"He was one of the first guys in the NBA I saw lift weights," remembers Brian Winters, Moncrief's teammate for four seasons and his predecessor as the team's starting shooting guard. "Looking back, I wish I had done more of that and had the mentality he did. Now everyone lifts weights, but he was the first I remember to really take care of his body. He had a very long career because of it."
In 695 career games for the Bucks, Moncrief averaged 16.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists. During his five-year reign as an All-Star, those numbers swelled to 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists and the Bucks averaged more than 54 wins.
His all-around play once inspired Nelson to call Sir Sid "the best player I've ever coached." In 2002, his opinion hasn't changed.
"I think that probably remains true today," Nelson said, "because he played both ends of the floor, he made the all-defensive teams a number of times for me and the All-Star team. The main thing was he was a winner, he was a great teammate to have and he did all the little things you need players to do to win."
With the possible exception of Nelson, Moncrief is the man most identified with the Bucks of the 1980s. It was during his rookie year, 1979-80, the Bucks came of age and won their first of seven straight divisional titles. The Bucks lost in the Western Conference Semifinals that year to Seattle in a seven-game series that Moncrief calls the biggest postseason disappointment of his career.
His final year in Milwaukee, 1988-89, marked the team's move to the Bradley Center, where his number proudly hangs among the pantheon of Bucks superstars.
During the decade that spanned those memorable events, Moncrief played in 88 playoff games, 20 more than any other player in the history of the franchise.
He said the most memorable were the sweep of the Boston Celtics in 1983 and the seven-game series win over the Philadelphia 76ers in 1986. Like most games, those were played in front of a raucous capacity crowd of 11,052 at the MECCA.
"The fans were right up on you," he remembered. "I liked the fact that it gave the fans a chance to be close to you. As you walk off the court or walk on the court, you had lines of people just wanting to see and experience the Milwaukee Bucks. That was good, that was special. It got us beefed up, got us ready to play. There was a home court advantage for our ball club."
Inevitably, the Boston or Philadelphia overcame the Bucks and their fans. For seven straight years, from 1981 to 1987, one of those two teams stood in the way of the Bucks and a trip to the NBA Finals. Moncrief said that, nevertheless, the Bucks never felt that they had let down the fans of Milwaukee.
"I remember we reflected the city itself," he said. "We worked hard and it's the type of city that when you played for the Bucks, you felt like you were playing for the city. They knew that when we hit this basketball court, Coach Nelson had us ready to perform at our maximum.
"They also knew that Philadelphia and Boston were better teams than us when they did beat us. But they never ever turned their back on our ball club. I sensed that every year for the fans was a new opportunity for us not to disappoint them."
The only time, if ever, that Moncrief's name might conjure up disappointment among the die-hards is when they remember seeing him return to town as an Atlanta Hawk after his one-year retirement.
"I would have loved to play my entire career here in Milwaukee obviously, but they had a different direction they wanted to go, and I think it was the appropriate direction at the time," recalled Moncrief, who said he was emotionally, physically and mentally shot, and thus ready to retire at age 31 when he left the Bucks.
"But after one year, I watched guys play on TV and I felt that I could come back and make a contribution, I could play 10 or 15 minutes somewhere. I wanted to make sure that I got it out of my system. I didn't want to be 45 and say, `I wish I would have played one more year.' "
Moncrief played 72 games for Atlanta, averaging 4.7 points, before calling it quits for good in 1991.
In the decade since, he has pursued opportunities in business and in basketball, both with equal zeal.
Sidney Moncrief Hyundai, in Pine Bluff, Ark., is one of its owner's passions. Moncrief has spent the last 12 years in the automobile business.
"The car dealership is something I really enjoy," Moncrief said. "That's my love. I really don't do it during the season because I don't have time to. I like being my own boss, and I've been my boss since I left the NBA, so that's been good."
During the basketball season, the new boss is the same as the old boss. Moncrief is in his third season as an assistant coach under Nelson with the Dallas Mavericks, following one year as the Head Coach at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
"I asked Sidney if he was interested (in remaining in coaching) because he was doing really well in the car business," Nelson said, "He said yes, he would have an interest in coming back and trying it. It was a no-brainer for me to work with Sidney again. We brought him on and he's done a great job for us."
As a Mavericks assistant, Moncrief still makes at least one sojourn annually to Milwaukee, where he was immortalized with induction to the Wisconsin Athletic Walk of Fame in 1998.
"Somebody told me about it. And I was like, `yeah, yeah.' and then I drove by it and I was like, `Wow!' It is really impressive to know that this is going to be around 100 years from now and I'm not. People will say, `Who is the heck is that?' and they can read a little bit about the history of the Milwaukee Bucks, and the history about of my contributions to Milwaukee athletics. I think that is really great."
He also admits to an occasional peek to the rafters at the #4 retired in his honor.
"Every once in a while I might show a player that might have been two years old when I played in the NBA," he said. "So I use it for motivation occasionally."
His trips to Brew City also give him the opportunity to catch up with old friends and new ones. Moncrief's approval rating is still through the roof here, even if he isn't always recognized right away.
"When people see my name, they still know my name," said Moncrief, "but we all change. I used to have a head full of hair, and now I don't. My mustache is gone, and people remember the mustache."
Gone, but not forgotten, applies to the man behind the mustache as well, at least in the hearts of Milwaukee fans. He merely hopes he is remembered "as that guy that came out and competed, was successful, a good guy, a team guy who represented the city and the organization very well."
In that regard, despite never running for office, Sidney Moncrief scores a landslide victory.