Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:18 pm
Jim Fitzgerald, former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, passed away Monday morning. He was 86 years old.
Fitzgerald originally joined the Bucks organization as a member of the team’s board of directors in 1973, and went on to become president and chairman of the board in 1976. The Janesville native held that post until the spring of 1985 when he sold the team to current owner Herb Kohl.
“Jim Fitzgerald was the right man at the right time for the Bucks franchise,” Bucks vice president of business operations John Steinmiller said. “He served on the board of directors for a short time, and then stepped up to establish a family culture within the organization that still exists today. He was a Wisconsin guy with good business instincts and a competitive spirit who always provided hope. He will be dearly missed by the entire Bucks family.”
Fitzgerald presided over a successful era of Bucks basketball that included the hiring of Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson and a string of seven consecutive division titles from 1979-80 through 1985-86, with teams featuring Bucks legends Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, Sidney Moncrief and Bob Lanier.
“Jim was a great man and he taught us more than just basketball,” Bridgeman said. “A lot of what I try to do in the business world is patterned after things I saw him do with the Bucks. Everything from the Christmas parties for the little kids to how he treated us and the values he stressed. The true testament I think is that we’ve all remained friends over all these years. A bunch of us got together and went to see Jim last year, something we’ve done over the last couple of years. Players don’t often do that unless they really feel that there’s an affinity there that goes beyond just us playing and him being the owner. It was a family, and today we lost a member of that family.”
Funeral arrangements for Fitzgerald are pending.
Jon McGlocklin, an original member of the Bucks team, said, “He was one of the finest people I’ve ever known. He was infectiously positive and a good leader. He’s the one that really moved Don Nelson into the head coaching position. He’s someone that I knew through the years, and he’s just a tremendous man. It’s a great loss. I have nothing but positive things to say about him.”
Former Bucks public relations director Bill King said, “Jim Fitzgerald was the lead owner of the Milwaukee Bucks during an era that we later recognized the club to be Camelot among NBA franchises. We had outstanding players who were quality people. We had a coach in Don Nelson that is being inducted into the Hall of Fame due to Jim Fitzgerald’s efforts. Our front office staff was recognized throughout the league as being lean, efficient, and inventive. ‘Fitz’ set the tone for the franchise with his positive ‘attaboy’ attitude. Anyone associated with the organization and all the fans who support the team owe a debt of gratitude to him as a model professional sports team owner.”