Quinn Buckner

Photo: IU Archives

Quinn Buckner Biography

Quinn Buckner is an American basketball player from Phoenix, Illinois who played both basketball and football at Indiana University. Buckner was a valuable contributor on the legendary 1976 IU National Champion team that went undefeated. He was drafted in both the NBA and NFL, but would go on to play basketball professionally for the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Indiana Pacers. He also coached one season in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks.

Buckner is also well known for broadcasting and being the color commentator for Indiana Pacers basketball games. Throughout his career, Buckner was lauded for his defense and ability to win at every level. Buckner was part of the 1972 Illinois state championship Thornridge High School team, the 1976 national champion unbeaten IU team, the 1976 US Olympic gold-medal winning team, and the 1984 Boston Celtic championship team.

  • Name: William Quinn Buckner
  • Position: Point Guard/Guard
  • Nationality: USA
  • Age: 65 years old
  • Birthday: August 20, 1954
  • Birthplace: Phoenix, Illinois
  • High School: Thornridge High School (Dolton, Illinois)
  • Height: 6’3″ (191 cm)
  • Weight: 190 lbs (86 kg)
  • Seasons: 4 (1972-1973, 1973-1974, 1974-1975, 1975-1976)
  • Number: #21 / #28 / #25
  • NBA Draft: 1976 / 1st round / #7 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Professional Playing Career: Milwaukee Bucks (1976-1982), Boston Celtics (1982-1985), and Indiana Pacers (1985-1986)
  • Coaching Career: Head Coach of the Dallas Mavericks (1993-1994)
  • Broadcasting Career: ESPN, NBC, CBS, and color commentary for the Indiana Pacers

Awards and Accolades

  • College Basketball Hall of Fame (Inducted: 2015)
  • 1984 NBA Champion (Boston Celtics)
  • 1982 NBA All-Defensive Second Team
  • 1981 NBA All-Defensive Second Team
  • 1980 NBA All-Defensive Second Team
  • 1978 NBA All-Defensive Second Team
  • 1976 NCAA Champion (Indiana Hoosiers)
  • 1975 Third-team NABC All-American
  • 1975 First-team All-Big Ten
  • 1974 First-team All-Big Ten
  • 1972 Illinois Mr. Basketball
  • 1972 Mr. Basketball USA

Quinn Buckner’s High School Career

Quinn Buckner was one of the most successful high school athletes in Illinois state history. In fact, Buckner is the only athlete to win Chicago area Player of the Year in both basketball and football.

Photo: The Chicago Tribune

In football, Buckner was all-state. While most remember Buckner for his time on the hardwood, he was just as successful on the gridiron and went on to play in college. Interestingly, while he played both basketball and football, he actually was officially enrolled at IU on a football scholarship.

In basketball, Buckner was part of several high school teams that could best be described by only one word: dominant. As, a junior and senior, Thornridge won back-to-back state championships. In fact, during those two seasons, they won 58 games in a row (and 62 of 63 games). 

Photo: Letterman magazine

But, it is Buckner’s senior season that is most fondly remembered. That year, Buckner was captain of Thornridge High School’s legendary 1972 team that many consider the greatest Illinois high school basketball team of all time. Led by Buckner, they finished the season 33-0 overall and never allowed an opponent to come within 14 points. In an era without the three-point shot, the team was dominant offensively and averaged 88 points per game. In the state title game, they won by an impressive margin with the final score being 104-69. After the season, Buckner was named National Player of the Year.

Photo: NBC Sports

“Quinn Buckner was the most mature high school athlete I ever saw, both physically and mentally. And that team was the same way. It was really a tough group. Their business was winning. And business was good,” stated former Chicago Bulls announcer Jim Durham.

Buckner was heavily recruited for basketball. Among his most avid suitors were UCLA’s John Wooden and IU’s Bobby Knight. Ultimately, Buckner would choose Indiana, where his father was part of the 1945 Big Ten football champion team. Buckner’s father was not fond of UCLA, particularly after John Wooden tried to discourage Quinn from playing football. Buckner’s father told him, “If you go to UCLA and win a (basketball)  championship, you’ll be one of many. If you go to IU and win a championship, you’ll be one of few.”

Quinn Buckner’s Seasons with the Hoosiers

1972-1973 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (2nd Season)
22-6 (11-3 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏅 NCAA Final Four
1973-1974 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (3rd Season)
23-5 (12-2 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏆 CCA Tournament Champions
1974-1975 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (4th Season)
31-1 (18-0 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏅 NCAA Elite Eight
1975-1976 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (5th Season)
32-0 (18-0 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏆 NCAA Champions

Quinn Buckner’s Statistics at Indiana University

Season G FG FGA FT FTA TRB PTS
1972-1973 28 130 318 41 69 134 301
1973-1974 28 103 273 23 41 106 229
1974-1975 32 165 335 49 84 123 379
1975-1976 32 123 279 40 82 91 286
Career 120 521 1205 153 276 454 1195

Quinn Buckner’s Indiana University Career

Football

Buckner was recruited to play both football and basketball. He entered campus during the first year of a NCAA rule change that allowed freshmen to play immediately on varsity teams. Taking advantage of the new rules, Indiana immediately started Buckner at safety who was an instant star on the football field. He was also a dynamic kick and punt returner.During his first season playing college football, he led the Hoosiers in interceptions, passes broken up, and kickoff returns.

Photo: The Daily Dose

Before his sophomore season, Indiana went through a coaching change, naming Lee Corso as head coach. Corso had a very different approach and Buckner was not a fan. In fact, he considered quitting football before his sophomore year but later decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately, things did not get better. Many on the team felt that Corso was just as concerned with entertainment as he was with actual football tactics. For example, Corso wanted to team to arrive to their first game in a double-decker bus that would depart from the practice fields. He wanted to make a dramatic entrance. However, the bus got stuck in traffic and barely arrived for kickoff. While the fans enjoyed the stunt, the team scored on the opening drive but ended up losing to Illinois.

Buckner later recalled a conversation he had with his father, where he said, “Daddy, this guy is about jokes. You can’t win football games with jokes, you have to get out there and beat somebody in the head.”

Photo: IU Archives

Then, one day, Buckner’s position coach came to him saying that Corso wanted Buckner to start playing running back. Buckner refused. The more the season continued, the more detached Buckner became from football.

The final straw was a conversation he had with Scott May. May, not only was his basketball teammate, but was a very good high school football player. May frequently attended football games and started to notice something weird going on. He told Buckner that it looked like many of the IU football players were not blocking for Buckner during kickoffs. May suggested that it could be that the players were jealous that Buckner was taking their playing time. Thus, May, who saw Buckner’s basketball potential, encouraged Buckner to consider quitting football so he would not pick up an injury that could cost him time on the court.

Therefore, Buckner decided to focus on basketball and left the football team after two seasons.

“My gift was football… I could play football and play it well without even having to think about it. I took my football skills for granted, honestly. I had to work harder in basketball,” said Buckner.

Basketball

Buckner made an immediate impact on the court, playing 25.5 minutes per game and finishing as the team’s third highest scorer (behind Steve Downing and John Ritter). He averaged 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. He attempted over 11 shots per game, making 40.9% of his field goals. Indiana won 22 games that year and reached the Final Four before losing to UCLA in the national semi-final. The Hoosiers came out victorious in the third-place game over Providence.

Photo: NBA

As a sophomore, Buckner saw even more playing time but noted a slight decrease in scoring and shooting percentage (8.2 points, 37.7% from the field). However, Buckner became more of a distributor and was one of the main creators of offense. He led the team in assists, averaging 5.4 per game (the second highest team total was Bob Wilkerson’s 2.6 assists per game).

With a deep roster, Indiana continued its run of successful seasons finishing 23-8. Michigan was also very good that year and each team finished 12-2 in conference play, tying for first place in the Big Ten. Because of the then rule that only conference champions could appear in the NCAA Tournament, Indiana and Michigan had to square off for a 3rd time with the winner receiving the NCAA Tournament invite. Michigan ended up winning, leaving IU with the consolation prize of a Collegiate Commissioners Association Tournament (CCAT) appearance. This would be IU’s first and only appearance in the CCAT, and the Hoosiers made the most of it, taking home the championship.

Photo: Journal & Courier

In 1974-75, Buckner’s junior season was statistically his best year. He posted 11.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 49.3% from the field. Once again, he led the team in assists. The Hoosiers had a plethora of scoring with four players (including Buckner) averaging 11 or more points per game and three players (Steve Green, Scott May, and Kent Benson) all dropping 15 or more points per game. The team ended with a record of 31-1 and went undefeated in conference play but eventually lost to Kentucky in the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament.

As a senior, Buckner continued to play a vital role for the Hoosiers during what is considered one of the greatest college basketball seasons of all time. Buckner averaged 8.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 44.1% from the field. That season, he was the team’s fourth leading scorer behind Scott May (23.5 PPG), Kent Benson (17.3 PPG), and Tom Abernethy (10.0 PPG).

This 1975-76 Indiana team is known as one of the best in the history of college basketball. The Hoosiers finished the season as the national champions with a record of 32-0 overall and are the last team in college basketball to have an undefeated season. If this wasn’t impressive enough, Buckner and the Hoosiers also were part of several other historical milestones along the way.

In the preseason, Indiana faced off against the reigning World Champion: the Soviet National Team. The game was played in front of a sellout crowd of 17,377 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. IU ended up winning in convincing fashion, taking down the Soviets 94-78.

Then, the Hoosiers (who were ranked #1 in the nation) began the regular-season by playing #2 UCLA, the reigning NCAA Champion. This matchup was one of the very first made-for-TV college basketball games. The game was played in St. Louis and started at 11 PM to try to garner the highest national viewership possible. Once again, Indiana came away with an impressive victory, dominating UCLA 84-64. IU would have to face UCLA once again in the Final Four and the Hoosiers came out on top yet again 65-51.

In 2015, Buckner was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

Photo: Big Ten Network

Quinn Buckner’s Professional Career

Buckner was drafted into both the NBA and NFL. He was drafted 7th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976’s NBA Draft. Similarly, despite not playing football as a junior or senior, Buckner was selected 393rd (14th round) the Washington Redskins in the NFL Draft.

Prior to starting his career in the NBA, Buckner was part of the 1976 US gold medal winning Olympic team.

The NBA turned out to be much different than Buckner’s previous basketball experiences which were filled with winning. During his entire high school and college career, Buckner had only lost a total of 25 basketball games. Yet, during its first season in the NBA, the Bucks lost 52 games.

During his first NBA season, Buckner had similar offensive numbers to those he put up as a Hoosier, posting 8.6 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 43.4% from the field.

 However, as soon as he stepped foot in the NBA, Buckner was excellent on defense. He averaged 2.4 deals per game, which was fourth best in the league. This would quickly become Buckner’s identity and was a constant throughout his career. Over the next few years, Buckner earned NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors.

Photo: NBA

Buckner’s best season was a professional came during the 1980-81 season. He posted career-best numbers in scoring (13.3 PPG), field-goal percentage (49.3%), free throw percentage (73.4%, which is particularly impressive considering he never shot above 60% from the line in college), and steals (197, which was also third best in the league).

The next season would be his final in Milwaukee and he continued to have success, posting 12.9 points and 4.7 assists while playing nearly 31 minutes per game, the highest MPG mark of his career.

After six years in Milwaukee, the Bucks traded Buckner the next season to Boston for Dave Cowens.Upon arriving in Boston, Buckner’s minutes were immediately slashed and he never returned to his offensive form that he had in Milwaukee.

Buckner was once quoted saying, “The fact was I wasn’t a very good shooter. I wasn’t a very good free-throw shooter. Danny Ainge and Larry (Bird) and even Kevin McHale, they were teammates. They all could really score. I was the least likely one to get the ball to go in the basket. They called it a tornado. I didn’t release it fully off my left hand. It spun. You see guys breaking their necks to get in to get the free throw after I’d shoot. When Larry shot, they didn’t do that. They knew his would go in.”

Nonetheless, Buckner was a regular contributor and steadying force on championship contending Celtic teams.

“So coming to the Celtics turned out to be, for me, incredible. Though I played more time in Milwaukee, I’m a Celtic. It’s just that simple. I always saw myself as a Celtic when I watched (John) Havlicek, JoJo (White), (Don) Chaney, all those guys. I watched them, because they shared the ball. They played together, and that’s the way I grew up learning how to play. It’s the only way I knew how to play so that’s what was in my heart as a player,” Buckner later told The Boston Herald.

Buckner later said that playing with Larry Bird was like “being with The Beatles.”

Buckner finally got his NBA Championship in the 1983-84 season, as Boston downed the Lakers.Following his three seasons in Boston, Buckner was then traded to the Indiana Pacers but was waived after 32 games and subsequently retired.

Buckner’s Coaching Career

The Dallas Mavericks named Buckner as head coach before the 1993-94 season. The Mavericks were in a tailspin and had only won 11 games the previous season. Despite not having any coaching experience, the Mavericks believed Buckner’s charismatic personality and team-oriented attitude would help promote a winning culture.

The Mavericks were a young team, so Buckner began the season as a disciplinarian, much like his mentor Bobby Knight. Unfortunately, the young team did not respond to Buckner’s stern approach and some players (like Jamal Mashburn) publicly criticized his coaching style.

The team started the season 1-11. Buckner decided to ease up on the players and change his approach. The players responded to this new method but the team still finished with the worst record in the NBA: 13-69.

The Mavericks ultimately fired Buckner after the season.

Broadcasting and Other Career Endeavors

Buckner later went on to broadcasting, working for ESPN, NBC, and CBS Sports at various times.

Today, Buckner is held in high regard for his color commentary on Indiana Pacers games for Fox Sports Indiana. Buckner is known for not only his basketball analysis, but also his playful banter and willingness to not take himself too seriously. As a result, several of his broadcasting moments have gone viral.

In July 2004, Buckner was named VP of Communications for Pacers Sports & Entertainment (PS&E), the controlling entity that owns and operates the Indiana Pacers, the Indiana Fever (WNBA), and the Pacers Foundation Inc.

In June 2016, Buckner was appointed to serve a three-year term on the Indiana University Board of Trustees by then-Governor Mike Pence.

Quinn Buckner Videos


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