The Best of a Bad Situation: 5. Sam Cassell

(I don’t really need to sell you on Sam Cassell. He was something of a vagabond in the NBA, though not necessarily by his choice. He played for eight teams over 15 seasons, but if ever Cassell had an NBA home, it was in Milwaukee. He was the point guard on the best Bucks team of the past 20 years. He was the final piece, the one that helped push them from fringe playoff team to legitimate contender. It was his attitude, his jumper and his presence that made Cassell such a fit for Milwaukee over five seasons. As we countdown our final five in our rankings of the Bucks best 20 players over the past 20 years, we’ll each contribute some thoughts and memories on just what separated these five from the pack. – Jeremy)

Soft was synonymous with the Milwaukee Bucks throughout the nineties. While it seemed the organization made sure offense wasn’t exactly required, defense wasn’t even suggested to the players. George Karl did his best to turn things around when he took over in 1998, but inserting the idea of defense into the collective mind of that team would have required some sort of Inception. And that movie wouldn’t come out for another decade.

So Milwaukee went the other route. The Bucks pumped more life into the offense and plugged holes with role players willing to do dirty work. The stars were required to score and score some more. But such a team had to be too soft to contend, right? Where’s the killer instinct if you’re not getting stops?

Sam Cassell scoffed at the idea that a lack of defense made you soft. Why waste time shutting down the opposing point  guard? Cassell was more interested in pulling up for a three in his face on a fast break. Shut them down by shutting them up. Cassell was the Bucks killer instinct. That’s how Cassell did it, and the rest of the Bucks followed his lead all the way to the conference finals. – JS

***

I’ll be honest up front, Cassell was my favorite player on those early 00’s Bucks teams. I loved the way he carried himself on the court. Cassell ran his mouth at seemingly everyone, but he backed up his words with a solid all-around offensive game. He was the perfect point guard for Milwaukee’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals. While Cassell is known for his scoring, I bet a lot of people forgot he averaged 7.7 assists during the 2000-01 season. Not to mention he brought plenty of playoff experience from his time with the Houston Rockets, something Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen lacked. Compile all of that together and you get a strange looking package that made the Bucks hum.

While I have plenty of memories of Cassell’s time in Milwaukee, one stands out above the rest. It is no secret Cassell is a strange looking man. It turned out one of my buddies in middle school had a head that was almost the same shape as Cassell’s. It was kind of oblong and gave off an alien vibe. Naturally, I started calling said friend Sam Cassell. He figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t referring to him as a Bucks point guard because I thought he was good at basketball. While he objected constantly to the nickname, I persisted.

Many people might look back at this situation and feel bad for teasing a friend. Instead, I remember what I did and worry I tainted the memory of Cassell for this person, who was a pretty big Bucks fan as well. Rather than remembering Cassell as one of the top point guards to ever play in Milwaukee, I am afraid my friend only recalls the teasing.

I urge Bucks fans to not make a similar mistake. Sure, Cassell looked weird and talked a big game, but he was also an extremely solid player and played an integral role on one of the best Bucks teams of all time. Remember the former, but don’t forget the latter. – JH

***

During the 2001 playoff series versus the Hornets, I was picked along with a handful of other kids to high-five players during the introductions. Before the intros, we got to wait on the baseline and watch the team warm-up. I spent most of my time freaking out. For the rest of my time waiting, I watched Cassell talk. And talk. And talk. No one was listening, but that didn’t matter. He was talking to himself. It didn’t stop when the game started. He talked during deadballs. He talked while he dribbled. And he talked when he played defense (which was probably why he was so bad at it). He did this every minute of every game.

It wasn’t just his endless oration that made him the de facto vocal leader of the Bucks. Or that there was a void of leadership before he showed up: Glenn Robinson was never made for that role and Ray Allen led with his work ethic. Cassell was a force of nature. He doesn’t just change a franchise’s play, but he changes its personality.

… you gonna cuss me out, and I’m gonna cuss you out. If I do something wrong, you straighten me. If you do something wrong, I’m gonna straighten you. And everybody else gonna fall in line here.”

That’s a real point guard. – IS

Jeremy Schmidt, Josh Hilgendorf and Ian Segovia write the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Click their names to follow them on Twitter.

I watch the Milwaukee Bucks often and write about what I see…

3 Comments

  1. In regards to Sam Cassell’s playing ability, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that everywhere he went they went to the playoffs including the LA Clippers, he was a leader and solid ball player (no pun intended based on that playoff dance of his)

    In regards to Sam Cassell’s looks, Charles Barkley said it best with this quote “Have you ever seen Sam Cassell, John Clayon, and Gollum all in the same place?”

  2. @Ted
    As much as it seemed to keep him from getting comfortable in one city, his attitude certainly helped his teams overall. Dude was a winner.

  3. I used to love when Sam or someone would get a steal and he would have the ball on a fast-break. Guaranteed that he would just pull up and nail a mid-range jumper everytime. Had a buddy who did the same thing and we always called him Cassell on the court. Not quite there in the looks department though…