When asked about Milwaukee’s decades-long losing streak in Phoenix, Bucks coach Jim Boylan joked that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president the last time the team won in the Valley of the Sun.
OK, it was actually Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office.
On Feb. 21, 1987 at the Arizona Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, the Bucks rode the hot hands of point guard John Lucas and sixth man Ricky Pierce to a 115-107 victory. Fans driving home from the arena that night paid 95 cents for a gallon of gas. The FOX Sports Wisconsin broadcast duo of Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin was in its first year together of calling Bucks basketball. Bucks assistant coach Sidney Moncrief was in the starting lineup for Milwaukee, and seven players on the current Bucks roster weren’t even born yet.
But the most fascinating fact is this: The Bucks have had nine different coaches since Don Nelson won that game in 1987. Nine different coaches finished their time in Milwaukee without ever walking out of the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum or the US Airways Center with a win.
Thursday night against a struggling Suns team, Boylan will try to do what Del Harris, Frank Hamblen, Mike Dunleavy Sr., Chris Ford, George Karl, Terry Porter, Terry Stotts, Larry Krystkowiak and Scott Skiles couldn’t do.
Boylan was on the bench with Skiles – who was on the Bucks team that last beat Phoenix but didn’t play in the game — for four losses, including a 105-101 defeat in January 2010. That was the closest the Bucks have come to winning in Phoenix.
“We almost won a couple of years ago,” Boylan said. “We came close. It was right down the stretch, but we couldn’t close it out.”
The two teams didn’t play in Phoenix in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, which means the streak sits at 24 games. It’s the second-longest active streak in the NBA; Golden State hasn’t won in San Antonio in 27 tries.
Thursday will mark just the sixth time during the span that the Bucks will have a better record than the Suns entering the game. Phoenix has lost 12 of 14 games and is just 13-27 overall. After having tremendous talent on their roster in the mid-90s and through the Mike D’Antoni era in the 2000s, the Suns have their least talented roster in some time.
With Steve Nash in Los Angeles, the Suns of old are officially gone. Phoenix is on pace to finish with its worst record since the expansion Suns went 16-66 in 1968-69. There hasn’t been a more perfect time for the Bucks to snap the streak than now. Not only would a win Thursday night erase the skid, but it also would be the only way Milwaukee could finish its West Coast trip with a rare winning record.
After struggling Tuesday against the Lakers, the Bucks need victories in Phoenix and Portland to achieve just their sixth winning West Coast trip in 20 years. More important, Milwaukee needs those two games to keep the team headed in the right direction after a coaching change.
But first things first, Boylan must do what nine head coaches before him couldn’t.