MILWAUKEE — His voice is familiar, giving the analysis of many of the Milwaukee Bucks’ games on television. But it was Marques Johnson’s time as a player that made his name synonymous with Bucks basketball. Now, his name will be in rare air.
“I love basketball,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a passion for that. Just to be a part of this team, to jump on board when I did, when they were right at the precipice of being a consistently good team.”
Johnson’s ride with the Bucks isn’t his first.
“I’m like the prodigal son. I had a lot of success here,” Johnson said. “Then left off to go to L.A. to seek my fame and fortune and kind of come back with my tail between my legs 32 years later, after having been beat down by the circumstances of life with a bad Clipper(s) team.”
Drafted third overall in the 1977 draft, the Bucks first round pick quickly became the player of his generation in Milwaukee.
A five-time All Star and a three-time all-NBA player as he led the Bucks to five division titles. However, Johnson was looking elsewhere.
“I had stars in my eyes. I wanted to do Hollywood, Los Angeles, UCLA theater arts major, acting, you know, I wanted to really, really focus in on all that area,” Johnson said.
The Bucks gave Johnson that chance after the 1984 season with a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers.
His career ended in 1990. But Milwaukee fans didn’t forget him, even after the long absence, as he realized upon his return to audition for his current role with the team.
“We go over to the Bradley to do the audition… there were workmen who were working and cleaning and they see me come in and they’re like Marques Johnson baby! You ain’t been back in like 30 years, man. You coming home, man? Tell me you’re coming home. And right then and there it was like well OK. If they’re calling it home, I guess I can call it home,” said Johnson.
That love comes from the organization as well, his #8 will forever have a home in the rafters of Fiserv Forum.
“It meant a lot. It meant that people here felt enough about me and what I contributed to this team, this organization’s success in the ‘80s to recognize me with one of the highest honors that you can bestow upon a player. That`s to retire the jersey. It means that nobody else will ever wear #8 again,” said Johnson.
Yet, despite his success on the court, he didn’t have much time for the community. That changed with his return.
“I made up in my mind that I was going to give this city kind of a living amends. For all the ills and all the past sins and everything that I did back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and all the non-embracing and the kind of ignoring of what was going on in the inner city and the underserved youth. I was going to make a concerted effort to do the exact opposite, 180-degree turn,” said Johnson.
As he honors the community, Johnson’s former teammates will be among those honoring him in March when his name and number rise up to the rafters.
“We get a chance to try and reconnect with each other and just kind of see where each other is 30 years later. And the fact that we’re all alive, you know, we’re six feet over the ground instead of 6 feet under, that’s a blessing and just to be able to reconnect in an event that’s celebrating, just recognizing basketball greatness and basketball contributions to success here in town, will be a fun thing to do,” said Johnson.
Johnson does work with the Running Rebels organization as well as First Stage. He also continues to work in the entertainment industry as he has a screenplay about the integration of the Los Angeles Fire Department that is getting some interest.
Johnson’s jersey will be retired on March 24, when the Bucks host the Cleveland Cavaliers.