The (One Time) Champ: How Jon Voight Is The Milwaukee Bucks of Acting, And Vice-Versa

Jon Voight’s career gets off to a quick start, around the same time the expansion Milwaukee Bucks improve their roster with a certain center from UCLA.

Being a Milwaukee Bucks fan is tough. With the 2012 NBA Draft supposedly stocked with talent, the Bucks played just mediocre enough last season to have a .7% chance of stealing the number one overall pick in this Wednesday’s NBA Draft Lottery. They always seem to play just mediocre enough, either to land a pick around slots eight through fourteen, or to qualify for the playoffs with the eighth seed. The organization can’t sign the NBA’s big-time free agents, and without lucrative revenue streams other than attendance, it can’t afford the truly terrible, hopeless season it would take them to (likely) draw the number one pick. A Bucks fan can’t get his hopes to high (championship contention), or too low (bottom-out, fire coach, draft best player in the country, start over). You’re left pulling for a rare difference-making mid-round player in the draft, or a rare first-round upset in the playoffs.

There’s certainly nothing cool about following the Bucks. Do a straw poll of most sports fans in Wisconsin, and you’ll find that the Bucks rank near the bottom of favorite teams. I can tell you right now that the following spectator sports, in this rough order, are consistently more popular in America’s Dairyland: Packers football, Wisconsin Badgers football, Milwaukee Brewers baseball, Badgers basketball, Badgers hockey, Marquette basketball, Milwaukee Admirals hockey, perhaps minor league baseball, Badger women’s basketball, UW-Milwaukee basketball, and even – dare I say it – Chicago Cubs baseball. Asking “Did you catch that Bucks game?” will get you the same look as if you asked them if they watched the TV Guide channel the night before. Nine times out of ten, anyway.

(I once met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and told him it was a thrill to meet him as I was a huge Bucks fan. He flashed me a startled and confused look, as if I had told him I was an expert on the Ford presidency, or that my favorite Cosby Show character was cousin Pam. Then I could see the rolodex in his head flip backward to the team for which he once played, nay, toiled. “Oh right,” his face seemed to communicate, “them. They still around?”)

Admitting to being a Bucks basketball fan (someone who actually watches their games) is akin to declaring your favorite actor to be Jon Voight: Both had their glory years in the 70s and early 80s, both have been either stuck in neutral or going backward for so long (with occasional flashes of brilliance) it’s hard to remember a time when they were ever doing consistent, quality work, and sometimes people have to be reminded of their very existence.

Jon McGlocklin, Oscar Robertson, and teammates celebrate the franchise’s first (and only) title in 1971. A few years later, Voight would win his first and only Oscar.

 To continue this entertaining metaphor (which I just conjured from nowhere) even further, you could say that both Voight and the Bucks had the same meteoric rise at roughly the same time. Voight became a critics’ darling (and multiple award recipient) for his starring role in Midnight Cowboy in 1969; that would be the same year Milwaukee won a coin flip over the Phoenix Suns for the right to draft Abdul-Jabbar – who would lead them to their only NBA championship within two years. (The Bucks joined the league in ’68 and remain the fastest expansion team to win a league championship.) There would be strong returns for both in the ensuing years. Voight would hang around and continue to do good work (Deliverance, The Champ, a Best Actor Oscar for Coming Home ), while the Bucks would be perennial title contenders for most of the next 15 years or so. In fact, by 1985, Voight was still performing well, earning an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe award for Runaway Train. The Bucks – under the brilliant coaching of Don Nelson and on-court leadership of Sidney Moncrief – would lose the conference finals to the Boston Celtics that season, which is kind of like winning a Golden Globe but falling short of an Oscar.

Since then, it’s been a meandering journey of mostly mediocre but often entertaining moments for both entities. The Bucks began their slide to .500 and by 1992 were in the draft lottery for the first time. They drafted mostly terribly in the 1990s (Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Shawn Respert, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, etc.) but hit a couple out of the park (Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, and arguably Vin Baker). Likewise Voight would appear, usually in a supporting role, in Heat, Enemy of the State, and Mission: Impossible, a hilarious guest role on “Seinfeld” popular fare that nevertheless could not return him to the critical acclaim he once enjoyed so easily. He also had a significant role in the hilariously awful Anaconda, which was analogous to the Bucks’ malodorous ’93-’94 campaign in which they finished 20-62.

(You could actually argue that from a film criticism standpoint, the Milwaukee Bucks had as good a 1990s as did Jon Voight. In that decade, Voight was nominated for one Golden Globe and one Blockbuster Entertainment Award – whatever that is or was – winning neither, to go along with three consecutive Razzie Award nominations, a.k.a. the shitty movie awards. Meanwhile, for his lead role in Spike Lee’s He Got Game, the Bucks’ own Ray Allen was nominated for an MTV Movie Award Best Breakthrough Male Performance. He lost to James Van Der Beek for his role in Varsity Blues, a film that co-starred – you guessed it – Jon Voight!)

Ray Allen (right, with Denzel Washington) led some good Bucks teams. He also won modest acclaim for his acting in Spike Lee’s He Got Game. To date, Jon Voight has not played in an NBA game.

Strangely, Voight even enjoyed a brief renaissance during the exact same year as the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2001, he played a president (Franklin Roosevelt) in Pearl Harbor, joined his daughter Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, enjoyed a popular comedic role in Zoolander as the father of the titular character, received an Emmy nom for his role in the TV-movie Uprising, and capped it off with another Academy Award nomination, this time playing Howard Cosell in the acclaimed biopic Ali.

That same year, Voight’s basketball team analog was cruising to first place in the NBA’s Central Division and enjoying its only 50+ win season of the past 25 years. Milwaukee had built a talented roster around three stars (Allen, Robinson, and Sam Cassell) and several scrappy, no-name supporting players like Scott Williams and Darvin Ham. The Bucks were the only Eastern team to go undefeated against the West’s top four, giving them a ghost of a chance to actually win an NBA title, implausible as it sounds today. But just like Voight’s 2001 nomination led to someone else’s (Jim Broadbent, by the way) victory, the Bucks would succumb to Philadelphia in a tough seven game series. (The 76ers would then succumb to the Lakers.)

Since then, it’s been another decade of mostly unwatchable dreck (losing seasons; Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Bratz, The Karate Dog) peppered with the occasionally watchable (first-round playoff eliminations to New Jersey, Detroit, Detroit, and Atlanta; The Manchurian Candidate, and I suppose the two National Treasure flicks – I find most movies with Nicolas Cage to be grotesquely entertaining). Since both Voight and the Bucks came on the scene in the late 60s, they’ve both been bridesmaids countless times, but have combined for exactly one Academy Award and one NBA Title – both in the 70s. In other words, it’s been a long time since those halcyon days of 1969-85. Cue “Everybody’s Talkin’ (Echoes)” in your head now.

Voight with Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. This is as good as it’s gotten lately – about as good as a first-round playoff loss.

What does the future have in store, for both Mr. Voight and the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team? We’ll know a lot more after Wednesday which direction the Bucks might be going. But if we are to read the Jon Voight tea leaves and project the results onto the team, we have some information. First, Voight (who has spoken at Tea Party rallies and in an open letter accused President Obama of promoting anti-Semitism) has endorsed Mitt Romney for President. Has he backed a winner? Time will tell on that one. Perhaps it’s irrelevant, as it’s Voight’s film career that we’ve compared to Milwaukee’s successes, not his political bets.

That leads us to a quick glance at his iMDb page, which says that Voight will join Nicolas Cage in another National Treasure sequel. Hello, eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Milwaukee!

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3 Responses to The (One Time) Champ: How Jon Voight Is The Milwaukee Bucks of Acting, And Vice-Versa

  1. Aaron says:

    This is hilarious! Well written and very unique! I know zero about Voight and less about the Bucks but the comparison had me smiling the whole way through!

  2. The Bucks…they still around?

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