SCHMIDT: No bang from its Bucks

EricSchmidtI’m more Chicago than Al Capone wearing a thick pair of Harry Caray frames, so whenever Milwaukee does something positive it’s a tough pill to swallow.

As much as it pains me, I’ve got to give the Milwaukee Bucks some props. They’ve actually managed to lead the league in something, which happens even less frequently than you would think.

There’s no easy way for me to say it so I’ll just spit it out:

Congratulations, Bucks. You, without a doubt, lead the league in being worthless.

Tricked you, Cheeseheads. Now go ahead, write your hate mail and declare me the worst thing since Brett Favre in purple, but it won’t change the fact that the NBA franchise in this city is this close to folding like a bad poker hand.

It’s not even that the team stinks. Actually, the Bucks have been a huge surprise so far this season. Brandon Jennings — the skinny rookie who shoots with the wrong hand — is doing a commendable job of making the Bucks kinda, sorta exciting to watch. But this isn’t about wins or losses or championship trophies. It’s all about the Benjamins.

According to Forbes’ list of the most valuable NBA franchises, the Milwaukee Bucks ranked dead last. This means they were behind perennial laughing stocks like the Grizzlies and Kings, behind infantile teams like the Bobcats and Thunder, and even behind the woeful Clippers — a team that has about one winning record since the invention of the light bulb. The Bucks’ total value is over $100 million less than the league average.

Somewhere in Milwaukee, Bango the Buck is crying. But wait, it gets worse.

Last season, the Bucks were 24th out of 30 teams in attendance, and in the last five years they’ve never done better than 20th. And this season, despite the early success, the Bucks are only averaging about 14,000 fans per home game, which is more than 6,000 fewer than the league-leading Chicago Bulls. In the past decade, more people have seen the Loch Ness Monster than a Bucks game.

Luckily for the Bucks, there is a solution and an alternative to just flopping around like a helpless goldfish: move the team. Just pack up, cut your losses and start anew in a different city. The strategy has worked for many floundering professional sports teams. Milwaukee seems to be more of a Brewers and Packers town anyway, so it’s not like anyone is going to die of a broken heart if the team leaves.

Well, apparently there is one man. According to longtime NBA journalist Sam Smith, the Bucks’ owner, Sen. Herb Kohl, has sold his soul to the devil in order to keep his team in his hometown.

“Herb Kohl is one of the most committed owners in the NBA and is committed to his state,” Smith said via e-mail. “He would never move the team or sell to anyone who would move it.”

In addition to the Bucks’ ailing financial situation, there is also the matter of the team’s aging arena, the Bradley Center, which is the fourth oldest in the NBA and in dire need of renovations. The word around town is that a new arena may be built to house the Bucks, but it will be outside city limits. If that’s the case, there’s even more incentive to ship the team out. But Smith is confident the Bucks are staying put.

“They are one of the most stable franchises in the league even though their financial situation is troubled,” Smith said. “For Kohl, the Bucks are a labor of love, and you don’t walk out on something like that.”

I guess Milwaukee can breathe a sigh of relief and thank Kohl for saving the day. But I wouldn’t say the franchise is completely out of the woods. With professional sports being hit harder than anyone by the economic crisis, anything is possible. If things don’t change, one day this team could very well move to St. Louis or Seattle or some other basketball-starved city.

Did I mention I’m a Cubs fan? Please be gentle to me.