ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Milwaukee Bucks owner Senator Herb Kohl is in quest of additional ownership partners who are committed to keeping the franchise in the city.
Kohl says the search will take place over the next several months as he considers “broadening” the ownership of the Bucks as a way to strengthen the franchise and keep it in Milwaukee. Steven Greenberg, managing director of New York-based Allen & Company, will advise Kohl during the process.
The 78-year-old bought the Bucks from Jim Fitzgerald in 1985 and is in his 29th season as president and owner of the organization.
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“I think the future of the Milwaukee Bucks is a lot brighter than it was yesterday,” Kohl said. “I feel real strong about this opportunity that I’m going to be taking to engage in discourse about adding to the Milwaukee Bucks in a way of strengthening the franchise, providing more stability and providing a more secure future for our future in Milwaukee.
“I would like to think that if it is done the right way it will reinvigorate the franchise and make our future in Milwaukee stronger and more secure.”
Allen and Company, whose office is located less than a mile from NBA headquarters, will vet any interested investors before making recommendations to Kohl. In addition to a commitment to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, Kohl is searching for people of character with a sincere interest in professional basketball and will personally interview candidates recommended to him.
Kohl said he understands why fans are worried about the long-term future of the Bucks in Milwaukee and hopes the process of adding investors will be the beginning of settling the fears of the franchise moving.
The former four-term United States Senator is committed to keeping the team in town, acknowledging he may have to pass on certain investors and millions of dollars in a potential sale. Kohl feels the franchise is valuable in Milwaukee because it is making money under the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement and revenue-sharing plan.
“While somebody might wish, and it won’t happen, to take our franchise and move it, it isn’t going to happen,” Kohl said. “This is Milwaukee’s franchise. It has real value in Milwaukee. That’s why there will be people interested in owning this property in Milwaukee.
“I won’t allow that so that’s not an issue. If I were prepared to offer the property on the market to the highest bidder, of course you’d have bids that were sky high. But that’s not going to happen. This is Milwaukee’s franchise for Milwaukee. Anyone who is interested in owning a property in Milwaukee will come forward. And there are people all around this country and maybe outside the borders of our country who are interested in being NBA owners.
“This asset is not for sale outside of Milwaukee.”
Monday’s announcement has the feeling of being the first step in eventually finding Kohl’s successor as owner. He was non-committal on if he’s willing to step down as majority owner if the right investor comes along, but he didn’t rule the possibility out, either.
Kohl said he is unsure what the search will lead to, and that Monday “is the first day of the rest of his life.
“It is a process,” Kohl said. “I don’t know how this thing is going to develop because it is starting today. So we’ll see how the process is going to play out, where I fit into that and where I can be most useful, most productive. I’ll figure that out. My interest is in Milwaukee and that the Bucks stay here.
“I love this organization, I love the Bucks, I love the competition, I love professional basketball. We’ll see how it goes.”
Kohl said, while every professional sports owner gets inquiries every year, he hasn’t had any serious discussions about selling parts or the entire team in “a long, long time,” and that this search is “starting from scratch.”
Michael Jordan tried to purchase the Bucks in 2003 but Kohl declined the offer, likely because of the probability of the team moving. According to Kohl, the process is much more organized this time around.
“We are in a much better place now than we were then,” Kohl said. “I had a nice negotiation with Michael Jordan. There was no acrimony at all. At the end, the way the deal was structured to go down, I wasn’t comfortable with it. So I decided not to go forward.
“I’m happy it never occurred. It worked out well for him. He has his team in North Carolina and it has worked out well for us.”
The Bucks currently have the worst record in the NBA at 5-19 and are on pace to threaten the franchise-worst record of 20-62 set in the 1993-94 season.
Milwaukee won the lottery following that season and used the top pick on forward Glenn Robinson.
Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already made clear the city of Milwaukee will need a new arena in the near future to replace the 25-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks’ lease with the arena runs through 2017, the likely deadline for securing plans for a new building.
“Senator Kohl bought the Bucks in 1985 in order to ensure the team would remain in Milwaukee,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement Monday. “During his extraordinary stewardship his goal remained the same — to bring the fans of Wisconsin high-quality basketball from a team they would be proud to call their ‘home’ team.
“With this announcement, Senator Kohl continues his mission: to assure continunity of ownership by broadening its ownership base, and assuring that the fans of Wisconsin will enjoy NBA basketball and other events in a new state-of-the-art facility.”
The biggest hurdle Kohl or any other ownership partner faces in keeping the team in town is getting a new arena financed and built. He acknowledged Monday that the NBA will force the team to move if an improved facility isn’t built in a timely matter.
“It was understood and not a secret that, (the extension with the Bradley Center through 2017) was going to be a bridge to a new facility,” Kohl said. “This is not news. Because they want us to succeed they have a level of patience but they haven’t changed their opinion. In order for Milwaukee to stay in the NBA, we will have to get to a new facility.
“When it is so clear that we need to do that, I have to believe that we will find a way.”
Kohl continued to stress a new arena would not just be a benefit to the Bucks, but also to the entire community and surrounding area. He complimented the work of those who helped Miller Park to be built and Lambeau Field to be renovated, but stressed those are single-use facilities while an arena has many uses.
While he wants it known the building would impact many, Kohl knows it won’t get done without the Bucks in town.
“Without us, it’s possible there will never be a new facility, never meaning in the foreseeable future,” Kohl said. “That would not be a good development. We are couples in this. New building, Milwaukee Bucks stay in town or no new building, Milwaukee Bucks don’t stay in town.
“Without new investors and without a new facility, would we at some point lose the Bucks? Yes.”