As I mentioned in an article on Pinwheel Empire, I went to see the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005. Rooting for the Blazers is to be presumed, but that was not the case. I was there to see the Bucks play. I was there to see Michael Redd play.
Redd, who was selected 43th overall in the 2000 NBA Draft by Milwaukee, wasn’t expected to contribute, let alone be on the team for long. The 6’6″ lefthander out of Ohio State appeared in only six games his rookie year. His prospects weren’t great, but the Bucks saw something in him. He was solid off the bench during his sophomore season in the league, appearing in 67 games and averaging 11 points per.
The next season, from 2002 to 2003, his role increased and he took advantage. He logged 28 minutes per game, compared to 21, and averaged 15 points per. He was instant offense; efficient from the field, especially from three-point range, and was a dependable free-throw shooter. He appeared in every regular season game, and his eyes were always on the basket. His coaches and teammates didn’t mind. He was gifted. And he would soon be the face of the franchise.
That happened quickly–the following season, in fact, due in large part to the team’s trading of Ray Allen.
“That was a tough day,” Redd said regarding the February day Allen was traded, as documented by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But lo and behold, it wound up being one of the best days because it opened the door for me to start my career.”
Milwaukee made the postseason and Redd was a big reason why. He played in all 82 regular season games and all five playoff games, averaging 21 points during the former stretch and 18 points during the latter. Equipped with an unorthodox release from well behind his head, he was lethal and a nightmare for opposing defenses. That nightmare would only get worse.
He became not only the go-to guy in 2004 but one of the league’s best scorers. He tallied 39 points twice, consistently scored 20-plus points, and took 19 shots per game. His shooting percentages were down because he had to shoulder so much of the load so quickly, but as his career progressed he regained his efficiency, saw his scoring average skyrocket, and as a result become the underrated and unquestionable leader of the Bucks.
I was forced to follow my favorite player from afar. Milwaukee wasn’t on television very often, and I didn’t have NBA TV. I found live streams once in a while, but was often forced to follow the play-by-play. I sat there, staring at my computer screen, waiting for plays to come in. I watched all of the highlights, too. I wasn’t just a fan of Redd anymore. The team captivated me. I felt sick when they lost. I was jubilant when they won. Redd made that happen.
He was on a small market team that struggled to stay over .500. During his prime, the Bucks were never among the elite in the Eastern Conference. He, though, did everything he could to make them relevant. And one night in November of 2006 officially put him on the map.
On the 11th of that month, Milwaukee was facing the Utah Jazz and trailed 51-27 with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. The Bucks appeared to be on their way to their fifth loss in the young season’s seven games. Redd made sure his team wouldn’t go quietly. He willed them back, slowly but surely, turning a 20-point deficit into a 10-point deficit then into no deficit at all. He came off screens, with little space to maneuver and effortlessly drained three-pointers, drove in for acrobatic layups, and hit every shot in between.
He had a remarkable 42 points in the second half, and 57 in all to break Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s franchise record for points in a game. He tied the game at 111 with 6.9 seconds left, making a three-pointer off a curl over Deron Williams’ outstretched hand. The players on the Bucks bench, in unison, raised their arms in celebration. It was a subdued reaction, though. They knew what he was capable of, and they were witnessing him harness his potential–to be the player so many teams failed to envision on draft night. The Bradley Center erupted. They were no longer watching a star in the making. He was a star. And he was the team’s only hope.
His career performance came in loss but was nonetheless spectacular. That it came in loss, though, summed up the Bucks inability to build a solid core around Redd. He was their $94 million man. He had turned down an opportunity to join LeBron James’ Cavaliers. He was loyal. He wanted to build a winner. Unfortunately, a solid supporting cast wasn’t there to get the team out of neutral. One of the reasons why was that contract. All their marbles were put in his bag. And then their investment became a sad, injury-riddled burden.
Redd has only played in 61 games over the past three seasons. He tore his ACL and MCL, came back, then tore both ligaments again in the same knee.
“I cried,” he said. “Just because you work so hard to get back to where I was and for it to happen again, it just hurts. I feel bad for the team and the organization and my fans who supported me.”
His career was in doubt, but he wasn’t ready to give up.
“Something in my heart won’t let me give up,” he added.
He returned to practice on February 21st, 2011 having not played in 13 months. He was in the final year of his six-year contract and he was grateful to be back.
“It feels great,” Redd said after participating in practice. “It feels great. One of the happiest days of my career to come back and be a part of practice. To be on the court is a blessing, man. I kissed the court.
“You really start to treasure things when you can’t do them anymore. I missed the last two years of my career due to injury. Not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but I appreciate it even more because I did miss it.”
He was back, albeit for 10 games as a role player. He averaged four points in 13 minutes. His career with the only NBA franchise he has ever known had come to a close. They weren’t going to bring him back. He would be a free-agent. And he is still a free-agent.
Teams have been reluctant to sign a 31-year-old who is coming off two knee surgeries. His prime was cut far too short, and odds are he won’t be the player he once was, but something tells me he can still play. And just because he isn’t signed doesn’t mean he isn’t wanted. The Indiana Pacers are the frontrunner for his services. Team officials met with him late last week.
He will be in the NBA again, of that I’m sure. The smooth lefty stroke will still be there, too, whether he is with Indiana or someone else. And every time I see him play I will look back at the player who, throughout my teenage years, was the man in Milwaukee, their loyal leader, an underrated dangerous threat, and my favorite player.