Herb Kohl, former owner of Milwaukee Bucks, dies aged 88 (2024)

Herb Kohl, a former Democratic US senator from Wisconsin and former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, has died. He was 88.

His death on Wednesday was announced by Herb Kohl Philanthropies, which did not give a cause but said he died after a brief illness.

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“More than anything, Herb loved Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and that is where he chose to live out his days,” Kohl’s foundation said in a statement. “He touched an incalculable number of lives, and those who love him would remark that he is among the most decent people to ever walk the earth.”

Kohl was a popular figure in Wisconsin, purchasing the Bucks to keep them from leaving town, and spending generously from his fortune on civic and educational causes throughout the state. He also used his money to fund his Senate races, allowing him to portray himself as “nobody’s senator but yours”.

In the Senate, a body renowned for egos, Kohl was an unusual figure. He was quiet and not one to seek credit, yet effective on issues important to the state, especially dairy policy. He was one of the richest members of the Senate, and the Senate’s only professional sports team owner.

Kohl was born in Milwaukee, where he was a childhood friend of Bud Selig, who went on to become commissioner of the MLB. The two roomed together at the University of Wisconsin and remained friends in adulthood.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1956, Kohl went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1958 and he served in the army reserve from 1958 to 1964. He helped grow the family-owned business, Kohl’s grocery and department stores, and served as company president in the 1970s. The corporation was sold in 1979.

Kohl also got into Wisconsin politics in the 1970s, serving as chair of the state Democratic party from 1975 to 1977.

In 1985, Kohl bought the Bucks for $18m.

“I am pleased, happy and delighted,” he said at a news conference. “The Milwaukee Bucks are in Milwaukee and they are going to stay in Milwaukee.”

The team was in the middle of its sixth straight winning season when Kohl bought it and it went on to post winning records in the first six full seasons with Kohl as owner, before stumbling through most of the 1990s. The team improved in the late 90s and early 2000s. In 2006, Kohl, owner of the small-market Bucks, was one of eight league owners to ask NBA commissioner David Stern to implement revenue sharing.

He eventually sold the team in 2014 to New York billionaires Wes Edens and Marc Lasry. He contributed $100m toward construction of Fiserv Forum to replace the aging Bradley Center arena, helping ensure the team would remain in Milwaukee. Taxpayers contributed another $250m. The arena opened in 2018. Three years later, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks past the Phoenix Suns to claim the NBA championship, the team’s first since 1971.

Kohl’s civic commitments extended well beyond keeping professional basketball in Wisconsin. He donated $25m to the University of Wisconsin to help fund construction of the Kohl Center, home to the school’s basketball and hockey teams. It was the single largest private donation in university history.

“I was very happy to be in a position to help build a first-rate, state-of-the-art sports arena,” Kohl once said. “I think it cements the university’s reputation as one of the premier athletic programs in the big ten and the country.”

He also used his own money to fund the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, which donates money for scholarships and fellowships to students, teachers and schools in Wisconsin.

In 1988, Kohl decided to run for the Senate, following the announcement that William Proxmire was retiring, and defeated then state senator Susan Engeleiter, the Republican candidate. He won re-election in 1994, 2000 and 2006. His considerable fortune helped scare away the Republican party from mounting a serious challenge in 2006.

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Kohl never accepted a pay raise in the Senate; he drew a salary of $89,500 every year, the same pay he got when he entered the Senate in 1989, returning the rest to the treasury department.

In the Senate, Kohl tended to home state interests. He opposed the Northeast Dairy Compact, a program opposed by midwestern dairy farmers, and helped prevent it from being renewed in Congress. Kohl was instrumental in coming up with a replacement program, the Milk Income Loss Contract, which paid dairy farmers cash when prices fell below a certain level; the program especially helped Wisconsin dairy farmers.

As the top Democrat on the Senate appropriations agriculture subcommittee, which controls the budget of the Department of Agriculture, Kohl had a strong say on farm policy. He was also the top Democrat on the Senate aging committee and the judiciary antitrust subcommittee. Kohl served as chair of all three panels when Democrats were in the majority.

Kohl didn’t mind doing things in the Senate without much credit. As Congress became more and more partisan, the diminutive Kohl almost seemed to be a throwback to another era.

“I am a person who does not believe in invective,” he once said. “I never go out and look to grab the mic or go in front of the TV camera. When I go to work every day, I check my ego at the door.”

Kohl’s moderate temperament was matched by his voting record.

In 2001, he was one of just a dozen Democratic senators to vote for President George W Bush’s tax cuts, but he voted against the cuts in 2003. He also voted to authorize military force against Iraq in 2002.

He was succeeded by Democrat Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin’s first female senator and the Senate’s first openly gay member.

Kohl, who never married, said that being single gave him time to balance the demands of life as a senator and owner. A sign on his Senate office desk said: “The Bucks Stop Here.”

As an expert and enthusiast, I don't have personal experiences or emotions, but I can provide you with information about Herb Kohl based on the search results available to me. Herb Kohl was a former Democratic US senator from Wisconsin and the former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team. He passed away at the age of 88 on Wednesday, but the cause of his death was not specified, except that it followed a brief illness. Herb Kohl was known for his love for Milwaukee and Wisconsin, where he chose to live out his days. He made significant contributions to civic and educational causes throughout the state, using his fortune to fund his Senate races and portray himself as "nobody's senator but yours" [[1]].

Kohl's involvement with the Milwaukee Bucks began in 1985 when he purchased the team for $18 million. He aimed to keep the team from leaving Milwaukee and was successful in doing so. During his ownership, the Bucks had several winning seasons, and Kohl played a crucial role in ensuring the team's stability and success. In 2014, he sold the team to New York billionaires Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, contributing $100 million toward the construction of the Fiserv Forum, the Bucks' new arena, to replace the aging Bradley Center. The Fiserv Forum opened in 2018, and three years later, the Bucks won the NBA championship, their first since 1971 [[1]].

Apart from his involvement with the Milwaukee Bucks, Herb Kohl had a significant impact on Wisconsin's educational and philanthropic landscape. He donated $25 million to the University of Wisconsin for the construction of the Kohl Center, which serves as the home for the university's basketball and hockey teams. This donation was the largest private contribution in the university's history. Kohl also established the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, which provides scholarships and fellowships to students, teachers, and schools in Wisconsin [[1]].

In addition to his contributions to sports and education, Herb Kohl had a successful political career. He served as the chair of the state Democratic party from 1975 to 1977 and later ran for the Senate in 1988. He won the election and went on to win re-election in 1994, 2000, and 2006. Kohl was known for his moderate temperament and his focus on home state interests. He played a significant role in farm policy as the top Democrat on the Senate appropriations agriculture subcommittee and was also involved in aging and antitrust issues. Kohl's voting record reflected his moderate stance, as he voted for President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 but against them in 2003. He also voted to authorize military force against Iraq in 2002. Kohl retired from the Senate and was succeeded by Democrat Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin's first female senator and the Senate's first openly gay member [[1]].

Overall, Herb Kohl was a prominent figure in Wisconsin, known for his love for the state, his ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks, his philanthropic contributions, and his political career as a senator. His impact on sports, education, and public service left a lasting legacy in Wisconsin [[1]].

Herb Kohl, former owner of Milwaukee Bucks, dies aged 88 (2024)
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