William Quinn Buckner is a natural born leader.
Buckner was never the dominant star, but his teams won. With Magic Johnson and Jerry Lucas, he is one of three players to win a state high school title, NCAA championship, Olympic gold medal and NBA crown.
A two-sport high school All-American, Buckner is the only athlete in Illinois prep history to be named Chicago area Player-of-the-Year in both football and basketball. He captained Thornridge High School, alma mater of Glee’s Jane Lynch, to back-to-back state basketball titles, losing only one game in two years as an upperclassman.
Often cited as the greatest team in the history of Illinois high school basketball, the 1972 Thornridge Falcons went undefeated, with no team coming within 14 points of them. Thornridge beat 16 conference champions that year. Buckner guided the Falcons to 58 wins in a row – 33 of them by an average margin of 32 points – and Thornridge beat Quincy in the state title game, 104-69.
After considering UCLA, Michigan, and Illinois, the 6’3”, 190-pound Buckner chose to play football and basketball at Indiana University, where his father, William, had helped the Hoosiers to the 1945 Big Ten football title. He started at safety as a freshman, then left the football team after his sophomore year to focus on basketball. “I was more gifted in football,” said Buckner, “but basketball was my favorite sport.”
A solid playmaker and rugged defender, Buckner was a four-year starter for Bob Knight at Indiana. A point guard and three-year captain, he led the Hoosiers to four consecutive Big Ten titles. Under Buckner’s guidance, IU went 59-5 in four years of conference play. In his final two seasons, Buckner did not lose a league game while Indiana amassed an overall record of 63-1.
Buckner’s Indiana career culminated with a perfect season – the last in college basketball – and an NCAA title in March 1976. Less than three months later, the Milwaukee Bucks made Buckner the seventh overall pick of the NBA draft. Before reporting to the Bucks, the fiercely competitive floor general avenged the fiasco in the gold medal game of the 1972 Olympics by leading Team USA to gold in the 1976 Montreal Games.
Born in Phoenix, Illinois — 20 miles south of the Chicago Loop – on August 20, 1954, Buckner’s parents were educators who taught their son to work well with others. Buckner was bussed to largely-white Thornridge, where he immediately became a leader. He captained the Falcons to the 1971 mythical state football championship [Illinois did not institute playoffs until 1974] and led the basketball team to unparalleled success.
He signed with Indiana to play football for John Pont, who had led the Hoosiers to the only Rose Bowl appearance in school history in 1967. Following Buckner’s freshman year, Pont was replaced by Lee Corso, who had a different approach to football than did Buckner. “Let’s just say Corso is perfect for what he is doing today,” said Buckner of his former coach, whose clownish antics produced an abysmal 27-53-2 conference record in ten seasons at IU but have played well on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay. “I thought a couple of the things he was doing were making a mockery of the situation.”
Buckner’s no-nonsense intensity was better suited for Knight. As a junior, Buckner led the Hoosiers to a regular season record of 29-0 while winning their Big Ten games by an average of nearly 23 points. After All-American Scott May broke his arm late in the season, IU fell to Kentucky in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The following year, Bucker and the Hoosiers returned with a vengeance, posting a 32-0 mark and capturing the first of three NCAA titles under Knight. The Hoosiers were so dominant that all five starters were named to the five-man All-Big Ten team.
Despite having not played football for two years, Buckner was selected by the Washington Redskins in the 14th round of the 1976 NFL draft. Gil Brandt, long-time director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, said Buckner would have been a great NFL player.
The NBA was a rude awakening for Buckner. Having never been on a team that lost more than seven games in a season, Milwaukee lost 52 times in 1976-77 and finished last in the Midwest Division.
“The Mighty Quinn” established himself as a dependable player with a high basketball IQ. Under his direction, the Bucks became a playoff team and Buckner was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team four times.
After six seasons in Milwaukee, Buckner was traded to the Boston Celtics for Dave Cowens. When Boston signed Buckner, Red Auerbach said, “He’s a winner, a leader. He rises to the occasion…and he’s disciplined.”
Buckner rose to the occasion, helping Boston to the 1984 NBA title. The Celts returned to the Finals the following year only to fall to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
Buckner played his tenth and final NBA season with the Indiana Pacers in 1985.
He coached the lowly Dallas Mavericks for one season in 1993-94 and later provided color commentary for ESPN, NBC and CBS, covering college and pro basketball.
Voted one of the 100 greatest players in the history of the Illinois state high school basketball tournament during the event’s centennial celebration, Buckner was inducted into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. He currently serves as television analyst and VP of Communications for the Pacers.
“Dedication, commitment, extreme concentration and discipline.” — Quinn Buckner, citing his success formula