LAS VEGAS – Bruce Mertz was eager to see the Bucks win their second NBA crown last Tuesday night after undergoing grueling dental surgery that afternoon.
He and his wife, Lori, dined on matzo chicken soup, steamed vegetables over quinoa and grilled salmon. A stunned Mertz left their condo kitchen atop Water Tower Place to watch the game.
He never made it to the den.
Founding father of the Bucks franchise, the 88-year-old Chicago native passed out, fell and fractured his right hip. His wife put a pillow between him and a wall, but he passed out again. She called 9-1-1.
“It all happened so fast,” said Lori. He had experienced a traumatic event at the dentist. . . . Just a really bad day. ”
The first time the Bucks were on the verge of winning an NBA title, on April 30, 1971, Mertz had a prime perch – on the grounds of the Baltimore Civic Center – to witness their sweep of the Bullets.
This time, he fell asleep while watching Game 6 in a room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He didn’t learn the Bucks beat the Suns until he heard details from a bedside radio on Wednesday morning.
A few hours later, he underwent hip replacement surgery. From his hospital bed on Thursday, he fondly recalled the 1971 celebrations in Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Avenue parade. His group sold the franchise in 1976, but he remains a Bucks fan.
” Absolutely, ” Mertz said weakly. This premiere was very exciting. And as awesome as Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was, I think Giannis Antetokounmpo is as good as Kareem, without a doubt. He can dribble the ball like a goalie.
They played really well in these playoffs. They kept coming back. Jrue Holiday is a great playmaker. I love this kid, Giannis. He is fantastic. It’s a beautiful and young team, and they will continue to grow. ”
Mertz grew up in Albany Park and has always loved basketball. He played at Roosevelt High and after graduating in 1951 he received the invitation of his life – to play against the Globetrotters.
A film released that year showcased the team’s achievements. It was a time when the Globetrotters played a lot of games against college stars. And there was Mertz, who guarded the entire Marques Haynes universe in a crowded gym at Lane Tech.
“And I stole the ball from him and I did a lay-up! Mertz said. I was the hottest thing in the neighborhood, a hero in Albany Park. They were like, “This is the guy who stole the ball from Marques Haynes!” I just got lucky. ”
He would befriend Wesley Pavalon, from nearby Rogers Park. They played for hours collecting balls and watched the NBA Stags, from 1946-47 to 1949-50, at Chicago Stadium.
“For $ 2.50 we would sit upstairs on the balcony,” Mertz said.
Pavalon was successful in operating television schools in Milwaukee and Mertz invested in its branches of the Career Academy.
Mertz triumphed in the men’s clothing business, first selling a line of athletic coats and pants throughout the Midwest as a traveling salesperson. He will launch the Format Italian tie brand and the influential luxury boutique Ultimo.
In Milwaukee in the mid-1960s, the Pals came up with the idea of bringing an expanding NBA franchise to the city.
“We felt there was a huge need for a basketball team in Milwaukee,” Mertz said. “Milwaukee is a great basketball town. He knew a lot of people, and I knew a lot of people. ”
Didn’t this effort require critical political, financial and logistical connections?
“Well, we found them,” Mertz said. ” We had some, but we found them. ”
Pretty good city of hoops
On January 22, 1968, NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy awarded expansion franchises to Milwaukee and Phoenix, and the Bucks became an incorporated entity two weeks later.
A tall, bearded, outspoken maverick who had a late model, dark green Cadillac limousine with driver, Pavalon – whose business practices were viewed as suspect by some employees – was appointed president.
Marvin Fishman, a Milwaukee real estate agent, has become executive vice president. Mertz estimates that his stake, perhaps 20% of the club, cost him $ 250,000.
Robins, for the state bird of Wisconsin, was the favorite among the 14,000 who responded to a survey on nicknames. Dollars prevailed. The 45 who suggested it received cases of Coke and two tickets to the opener on October 16, 1968. One won a new Javelin car.
The team’s first season was horrific, as was the Suns’ initial campaign. A toss, of course, determined which team would draft remarkable UCLA center Lew Alcindor. The Suns called heads; it landed right on.
Kennedy died in 1977, and a grandson is believed to own this special 1964 half dollar. Pavalon died at age 76 in 2009.
Alcindor legally became Abdul-Jabbar the day after leading the Bucks to that 1971 title. In 1975, a year after losing the NBA Finals to the Celtics, the Bucks distributed it to the Lakers, which he gave away. helped to win five trophies.
When Mertz retired 20 years ago, he bought a condo in Turnberry Towers, near the Vegas Strip. He and his wife spend the winter and spring there and spend summers and autumns in Chicago.
He became a partner of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab when it opened at the Forum Shops inside Caesars in 2004.
Looks like only dental instruments can turn Mertz away. His zeal for the hoops never wavered. And Milwaukee has yet proven its long-held belief that it is a very good basketball town.