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How Wayne Embry made history as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks

Wayne Embry currently serves as Senior Advisor to the Toronto Raptors basketball team.
Courtesy of Toronto Raptors and Wayne Embry
Wayne Embry currently serves as Senior Advisor to the Toronto Raptors basketball team.

Fifty years ago — March 6, 1972 to be exact— a Milwaukee man became the first Black general manager of a pro sports franchise.

The Milwaukee Bucks basketball team chose Wayne Embry as their GM, replacing Ray Patterson, who was leaving to join the Houston Rockets.

Embry had been a distinguished player in college at Miami and Ohio, and in the National Basketball Association. He went on to numerous honors as an NBA executive, and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Embry's still in the NBA, serving as Senior Advisor to the Toronto Raptors. Embry told WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach that a lot of his success goes back to his extended family, and school experience near Springfield, Ohio.

"I went to a junior high school with very few African-Americans. Then I went to high school, and I was the only African-American student in school. I was on the brink of quitting. My grandfather, who was the patriarch of our family, and my parents, said, 'No you're not. You're going back to school.'"

Embry says a coach took interest in him, "and the rest is history."

Embry says after playing basketball in college and for two NBA teams, he came to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1968 expansion draft.

He says when he and his wife first came to Wisconsin, they saw a building with George Wallace for President signs. Embry recalls, "My wife said, 'Where are you bringing me?' I said, 'Oh my god, I've never seen these before.'"

Wallace, a segregationist, had been Alabama's governor, and was making a third-party bid for President in 1968.

Embry says friendly neighbors in his Oak Creek apartment building made his family feel comfortable.

After retiring as a player, Embry eventually came back to work in the Bucks front office. When team owners offered him the general manager job in March, 1972, he said, "I just sat there. I couldn't believe what I was hearing."

It turned out to be the start of five decades helping shape NBA teams.

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