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Herb Kohl, former U.S. senator and ex-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, dies at 88

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

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

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 used his money to fund his Senate races, allowing him to portray himself as "nobody's senator but yours."

He also "followed in his father's footsteps" and with his brothers built a chain of over 50 Kohl's grocery stores across the Midwest, the Herb Kohl Foundation noted in a statement Wednesday evening. The chain eventually expanded nationwide.

Sen. Herb Kohl
FILE --- Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, questions Eric Schmdt, chairman of Google Inc., unseen, during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 2011.  Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Kohl a "dear friend," reiterating that Kohl's 1985 purchase of the Bucks "ensured" the team "would stay in Milwaukee and remain an important pillar of the community." He sold the team in 2014.   

"When the Milwaukee Bucks were put up for sale and in danger of being bought and moved to another city, Herb stepped forward in 1985 and bought the team with the promise to its fans that they would never leave," his foundation said, adding that "when the time came to sell the team, he fulfilled that promise and donated $100 million to help in building a new arena for the community."  

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 baseball commissioner. The two roomed together at the University of Wisconsin and remained friends in adulthood.

"Senator Kohl leaves behind an unmatched legacy," his foundation said in its statement.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he earned an MBA from Harvard and then joined the Army Reserve, the foundation said. 

"The Herb Kohl Way perfectly sums up a legacy of humility, commitment, compromise, and kindness to countless people he worked with, served and helped along the way," Joanne Anton, Director of Giving for Herb Kohl Philanthropies, said in a statement.

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