2021 NBA Playoffs

'Godfather II', Jerry West retires and more: It's been 47 years since the Bucks reached The Finals

Back in 1974, the NBA Finals saw Kareem's Bucks battle against Celtics in a world (and NBA) that was markedly different.

Ultimate Highlight: Bucks advance to NBA Finals

Milwaukee defeats Atlanta in Game 6 to clinch its first trip to the NBA Finals since 1974.

It’s hard to argue that any NBA expansion team was as successful as the Milwaukee Bucks were in their early days.

After struggling through a 27-55 debut season in 1968-69, the Bucks won 56 or more games the next five seasons, collected an NBA title (in 1971) and made another Finals in 1974. After falling to the Boston Celtics — Milwaukee was a West team back then — in Game 7 of The Finals, Milwaukee hasn’t been back since.

Milwaukee was 7-15 in Eastern Conference finals games since that ’74 Finals run, but those pains are all forgotten after the Bucks beat the Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 of the 2021 East finals to clinch The Finals.

The last time the Bucks were in The Finals was in 1974 against the Celtics.

The last time Milwaukee made The Finals, it had a much easier path, beating the Chicago Bulls 115-99 in Game 4 to sweep into the NBA championship series. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated Chicago in that series-clincher, piling up 38 points, 24 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, while guard Oscar Robertson finished with 16 points and 10 assists.

Back when the Bucks made the Finals in 1974, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was a 4-year-old, current Bucks broadcaster Jon McGlocklin was a player for Milwaukee averaging 15.8 points and Abdul-Jabbar had just won the third of his seven career NBA MVPs.

In The Finals, the Bucks will face the Phoenix Suns — who ended their own 28-year Finals drought — in a series that begins on Tuesday, July 6.

Just how different was the world the last time the Bucks were in The Finals? Here’s a quick look at what life was like in 1974:

The 1973-74 NBA season

The 1973 draft was a notable one, even though it only produced four All-Stars and one Hall of Famer (George McGinnis, No. 22 overall pick). The No. 1 overall pick that year, Doug Collins, would go on to become a successful NBA coach and longtime NBA broadcaster. Mike D’Antoni, a former Coach of the Year winner and current Brooklyn Nets assistant, was also selected in this Draft (No. 20 overall). Additionally, former NBA executives and coaches Allan Bristow (No. 21 pick), George Karl (No. 66) and M.L. Carr (No. 76) were taken in this class as was future baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield (No. 79). Lastly, the No. 2 overall pick, Jim Brewer, is the uncle of current Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers.

Fueled by the sting from a disappointing showing in the 1973 Eastern Conference finals, Dave Cowens and the Boston Celtics added a new championship to their 1960s title bonanza in 1973-74. Tom Heinsohn had nurtured the group as coach for five years, and Red Auerbach was still making the key acquisitions to build another contender. Though they won 14 fewer games than they did in 1972-73, the Celtics used a core of Cowens, John Havlicek and Paul Silas to romp past Buffalo and the aging Knicks to reach The Finals for the first time since 1969.

Havlicek was 34 by the time the Celtics reached the 1974 NBA Finals, but he seemed to be the same man who had helped Boston win six NBA titles during the 1960s. A link to the Bob Cousy/Bill Russell-era Celtics, “Hondo” was still the main man for the Celtics a decade later.

“When things are swinging easy, we all get in the flow of it,” explained Paul Silas. “And sometimes then it almost looks like we ignore John. But when things don’t go well, we look to him all the time to make the tough play. We do this instinctively because he has usually been the guy who’s turned bad moments into good ones for us.”

After six games with the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-led Milwaukee Bucks — including two that went into overtime — the series was tied at 3-3. In Game 7, the Celtics double- and triple-teamed Abdul-Jabbar. Cowens, freed from having to focus on defending the big man alone, scored 28 to lead the Celtics to a 102-87 win. Havilcek took home Finals MVP honors thanks to some clutch shots throughout the series, especially in Game 5.

This season also marked the end of the road for five legendary players and future Hall of Famers as Robertson, Jerry West, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed and Jerry Lucas all retired after the 1973-74 season.

Pop culture & more from 1974

  • Amid the Watergate Scandal, which began in 1972, president Richard Nixon becomes the first United States president to resign on August 9, 1974. His vice president, Gerald Ford, took office after him and would soon give Nixon a full pardon for his role in Watergate.
  • “The Godfather: Part II,” the highly anticipated sequel to the popular and Oscar-winning original “The Godfather,” hits theatres on Dec. 20, 1974. Despite it’s short time in theatres in 1974, it finishes No. 6 in the box office that year, raking in $57.3 million.
  • The top 5 movies in 1974: “Blazing Saddles” (earned $119.5 million), “The Towering Inferno” ($116M), “The Trial of Billy Jack” ($89M), “Young Frankenstein” ($86.3M) and “Earthquake” ($79.7M).
  • The top 5 singles in 1974: “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand; “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks; “Love’s Theme” by Love Unlimited Orchestra; “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone; “Dancing Machine” by The Jackson 5
  • The final episode of “The Brady Bunch” airs on March 8, 1974, marking the 117th episode in the show’s five-season run. That was hardly the end of the iconic family, though, as they stayed in the pop culture landscape over the next several years thanks to spin-offs, cartoons and TV specials.

  • A new author named Stephen King has his first novel, “Carrie,” published on April 5, 1974. King has had more than 50 books published since then and has become one of the world’s most successful writers.
  • The Sears Tower in Chicago is completed in 1974 and becomes the world’s tallest building, checking in at 1,454 feet tall — surpassing the World Trade Center in New York City by 100 feet. The Sears Tower would lose its distinction as the world’s tallest building in 1998, when the Petronas Towers in Malaysia surpassed it by less than 30 feet (1,483 feet tall).
  • On June 26, 1974, the UPC bar code scanner makes its debut at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The first item scanned is a 10-pack of Wrigley’s gum, priced at $0.69.
  • A key moment in scientific history occurs on Nov. 24, 1974. Paleontologist Donald Johanson and his graduate student, Tom Gray, discover an almost complete hominid skeleton in Hadar, Ethiopia that they named “Lucy.”
  • Stuntman and daredevil Evel Knievel attempts to jump Snake River Canyon in Idaho on his specially designed rocket motorcycle on Sept. 8, 1974. The attempt failed and Knievel’s vehicle landed on the riverbank directly below his launch ramp.

  • A barrage of actors, musicians and athletes are born in 1974 including Leonardo DiCaprio, Steve Nash, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Fallon, Christian Bale, Jenna Fischer, Paul Kariya, Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix.

Then and now: What things cost (in the U.S.) in 1974 and in 2021

A quick look at what the national average price was for items in 1974 compared to 2021

1974 average price Item 2021 average price
$0.53 Gallon of regular gas $3.09
$1.57 Gallon of whole milk $3.60
$0.78 1 dozen large eggs $1.17
$0.08 First-class stamp $0.58
$11,197 Median household income $79,900
$4,441 Cost of a new car $40,472

Notable sports events in 1974

  • On Oct. 30, 1974, George Foreman and Muhmmad Ali square off in a much-hyped boxing match for the heavyweight title in Kinshasa, Zaire. Dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the match features Ali’s “Rope-a-Dope” strategy in which he let Foreman hit Ali until he was tired, and then Ali countered with a series of quick punches. Ali defeated Foreman by a knockout in the eighth round to become the second former heavyweight champion to regain his title.

  • Oklahoma finishes the 1974 season 11-0 and collects the college football national championship. The Sooners were powered by running back Joe Washington, who amassed 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns as Oklahoma won its first national championship since 1956.
  • The Miami Dolphins topped the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles in a game that was historic on several fronts. The Dolphins became the first repeat Super Bowl winner since the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowls I and II. Additionally, bruising Dolphins tailback Larry Csonka became the first running back to win Super Bowl MVP honors after he rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins, 1-0, in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup. In doing so they became the first expansion team to win the Cup, thanks in large part to goalie and Finals MVP Bernie Parent (.933 save pct.).
  • Braves slugger Hank Aaron makes history on April 8, 1974, hitting career home run No. 715 before a sold-out crowd in Atlanta. In doing so, he passed Babe Ruth for the all-time home run record and is interviewed by a young Craig Sager.

  • The Oakland A’s defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2 in Game 4 of the World Series to win back-to-back titles. This was the second of three straight World Series titles for the A’s, powered in large part by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and an outstanding pitching staff that included World Series MVP Rollie Fingers. This was a banner time for the Bay Area, too: the Golden State Warriors would win the NBA title in 1975 and in 1976, the then-Oakland Raiders won their second Super Bowl.
  • In college basketball, NC State beat Marquette 76-64 to win its first NCAA men’s national championship. Future NBA star and Hall of Famer David Thompson led the Wolfpack to victory and helped NC State defeat UCLA in the Final Four. In doing so, the Wolfpack ended the Bruins’ streak of seven straight national championships.

  • In the UEFA Champions League, Bayern Munich defeated Atletico Madrid 4-0 for its second of three straight UEFA Champions League titles. The game was unique in that it was played twice. The first matchup was a 1-1 tie, resulting in the first and only replay in UEFA Champions League/European Cup history.
  • At Wimbledon, Jimmy Connors defeated Ken Rosewall 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 and Chris Evert topped Olga Morozova 6-0, 6-4 to win the Single’s Championships. For Connors, this was his first Wimbledon title en route to a dominant overall year in which he won the Australian Open and the US Open as well. For Evert, this was also her first Wimbledon title (she won the French Open in 1974 as well) as she began a run of being the No. 1 women’s singles player from 1974-78.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.