Tag Archives: Swen Nater

Who the @!&# is Swen Nater and why is he one of the most important players in Bucks history?

Andrew Bogut hauled in 27 rebounds last night in the Bucks 101-95 overtime loss to the Miami, tying Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Bucks franchise record for most defensive boards in a game with 20.   Kareem did it twice, once in 1974 and once in 1975.

Bogut’s 27 total rebounds were six off the franchise single game record of 33 held, not by Kareem or the Dobber, Bob Lanier, Vin Baker or any All-Star big man Bucks fans would remember, but by a 6’11” center who had, like Kareem, played for John Wooden at UCLA and who, like Dan Gadzuric and Francisco Elson, was a product of the Netherlands:

Swen Nater.

Who?

Nater grabbed 33 rebounds Dec. 19, 1976 in Milwaukee at Mecca Arena against the Atlanta Hawks, a game that is distinguished in other ways by the fact that it was one of only 30 games the Bucks won in 1976-77, Don Nelson’s first season as Bucks head coach.  It was Nellie’s 13th game, his 3rd win of an NBA coaching record 1,335.  That old “Green and Growing” jingle hadn’t been written yet. Bango didn’t even exist.

Neither did the ABA, which made the 1976-77 NBA season the dawn of the modern era.  Nater, a 1973 Bucks draft pick, joined the Bucks three years later when the ABA dissolved (see comments below),  played one season and was traded to the Buffalo Braves for the #3 overall pick of the 1977 draft as the Bucks dove headlong into a youth movement, created Bango, hired somebody to write the goofy “Green and Growing” jingle and dove headlong into a youth movement.

Nater, along with Moses Malone, Artis Gilmore and Marvin “Bad News” Barnes was one of the top rebounders in the ABA, and didn’t disappoint in the NBA.  In the five seasons of his prime, 1977-1981, he hauled down 4,848 rebounds in 392 games (12.4 per) for the Bucks and the Braves/Clippers.  In 1980 he led the NBA with 1,216 boards and in 1981, led the league in defensive rebounds with 722.

To put that in perspective: Bogut’s season high is 763 overall rebounds in 2008.  In his sixth season, AB’s career total is 3,318.  Statistically, and in terms of durability, only Dwight Howard in today’s NBA has put together a five consecutive rebounding seasons that compare favorably with Nater, 1977 through 1981.

Nater averaged 13 pts and 12 rebs per game in 72 games for the Bucks in 1976-77, about where Bogut’s current numbers are.  No, Swen didn’t block shots or play defense like Bogues (no center in Bucks history has ever played the kind of enforcer D Bogut is playing now) but he hit his free throws.

What madness befell the Bucks that caused them to trade Nater to Buffalo for a draft pick?

Nellie and the Bucks in 1977 had the #1 overall pick in the draft and their hearts set on 7-footer Kent Benson out of Indiana, and this made Nater expendable.  Benson, however, was a bust, more or less, and was eventually traded to Detroit for Bob Lanier.

The Bucks used the #3 pick they netted from Buffalo on another player from UCLA, forward Marques Johnson, who, in his rookie season, led the Bucks to within one game of the Western Conference finals.  By 1979, Marques was a first team All-NBA forward, arguably as good as Dr. J.  By 1980 the Bucks were back in the East, where Marques was the one matchup that gave Larry Bird fits more than any other (sorry Doc).  The Bucks remained in the Golden Age’s top tier along with Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics and Dr. J’s Sixers for the remainder of Marques’ career (1977-84) in Milwaukee.

That 1977 Nater trade eventually morphed to bring Terry Cummings, Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges to the Bucks in the 1984 trade with the Clippers (for Marques and Junior Bridgeman).  Cummings, Pierce and Hodges helped keep the Bucks in the upper echelon of the league through the 1980’s, or until Sidney Moncrief’s knees gave out.  Cummings, the primary player in the Marques trade, would later bring back All-star Alvin Robertson in a trade with the Spurs.

Of course, what the Bucks did with the abundant resource that was Swen Nater was certainly more important than Nater himself, but an argument could be made that getting Swen out of the ABA and then trading him to Buffalo are two of the most important — and ultimately beneficial — events in the history of the Bucks.  The drafting of Lew Alcindor in 1969 still stands as the single-most important event in Bucks history; the trade with Cincinatti in 1970 for Oscar Robertson is up there;  the trade with Detroit in 1979 that allowed the Bucks to draft Moncrief was another monumental event.

But Nater-for-the-pick-that-became-Marques, in my book, ranks ahead of the Sidney draft, and not only because Marques was my favorite player and the 1977-82 Bucks were a team built around him. By 1983, the Marques-and-Sidney, Sidney-and-Marques Bucks were arguably the best team in Bucks history, certainly one of the best teams in NBA history never to win a title.

What makes the Nater-Marques transactions matter more than others (probably even more than acquiring the Big O) is that they were the gift that kept giving into early 1990’s, when the Bucks at last, after more than a decade of winning, had to tear down and rebuild.  No Nater, no Marques. No Marques, no Terry Cummings or Ricky Pierce or Craig Hodges.  No Cummings, no Alvin Robertson.  And so it goes … all the way to the tanking that eventually led to the #1 pick in the 1994 draft.

And all this makes Swen Nater, the gift from the defunct ABA that kept giving, who once grabbed 33 rebounds for the Bucks in a single game, a player whose significance to the Bucks franchise rivals that of Sidney and the Big O, and is lesser than only Kareem and the player Nater was traded for, Marques Johnson.