SBJ/Feb. 10-16, 2014/Champions

Embry at the center of trade that sent Kareem to the Lakers

Wayne Embry has engineered dozens of player trades over the course of his career, but he will forever be linked to one of the biggest trades in NBA history.

SBJ Podcast:
NBA reporter John Lombardo and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss the life and career of Wayne Embry.

In 1975, Embry was the Milwaukee Bucks’ general manager who shipped Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers. It was a trade for the ages, given Abdul-Jabbar’s dominance in the NBA at the time, where the game-changing center spent six years in a Bucks uniform and helped bring the 1971 NBA title to Wisconsin.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won one title and appeared in two NBA Finals with the Bucks in the 1970s.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Embry had little choice but to trade the superstar, who in ’71 changed his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Embry knew Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of Milwaukee as early as 1974, the year the Bucks lost in the NBA Finals to Boston. Embry would grant him his wish — but not before spending months trying to convince him to stay with the Bucks.

“I told Kareem, ‘You are the franchise,’ and I wasn’t anxious to trade the franchise,” Embry said. “I told him, ‘If it’s me, I can go.’”

But it wasn’t Embry who was chasing Abdul-Jabbar out of town. The NBA’s best center, who had grown up in New York City and starred at UCLA, wanted out of small-market Milwaukee. After secret meetings with Abdul-Jabbar and his agents, Embry knew he had little choice.

“Kareem was respectful,” Embry said. But his decision had been made.

Los Angeles was actually the Bucks’ third choice, with Washington and New York Knicks the two early front-runners.

According to Embry, the bombing of a house Abdul-Jabbar owned in D.C. ruled out a trade to Washington, and the Knicks weren’t offering enough in return.

So Embry looked west to Los Angeles and began negotiating with Pete Newell, who was running the Lakers for owner Jack Kent Cooke.

After flying to Denver, where both teams could negotiate in relative secrecy, Embry flew back to Milwaukee and announced the trade on June 16, 1975.

“We got the deal done and the rest is history,” Embry said.

In return for Abdul-Jabbar and backup center Walt Wesley, the Lakers sent Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, David Meyers and Junior Bridgeman to Milwaukee in a deal that forever changed the NBA landscape.

“It was a different time,” Winters said. “I was visiting a girl I was dating in Delaware and she told me that she heard on the radio that Kareem got traded. I called home and my sister said I got two calls; one from Wayne and one from Pete Newell. Wayne was terrific to me. It was a good trade for both teams. We laid the foundation for good Bucks teams in the future.”

Abdul-Jabbar went on to win five NBA titles with the Lakers and is considered the greatest center in NBA history.

The Bucks have not made the NBA Finals since, let alone win another title.

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