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Ranallo’s account portrays unlikely rise of Randy Smith

As the NBA All-Star Weekend approaches, we go back in the way-back machine to 1978. In the Braves’ final year in Buffalo and his team in a state of disarray, Randy Smith took the nation by storm and was voted the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player. The game featured several amazing shots by Smith who had joined the Braves in its early years after being selected as a 7th round draft choice in 1971.

Phil Ranallo, veteran writer of the “Buffalo Courier Express” newspaper brillantly recounts Smith’s stellar performance in his morning column: “What’s New, Harry?”. Ironically, the Braves’ coach at the time, Cotton Fitzsimmons, had doubts about Smith’s abilities, especially in clutch situations. In a style that made him a staple at Western New York breakfast tables, Ranallo recounts not just Smith’s All-Star performance, but also the unlikely path that brought him there.

WHAT’S NEW, HARRY?

Phil Ranallo, February 7, 1978

   LET’S ALL HOPE THAT Cotton Fitzsimmons was paying close attention Sunday afternoon as Randy Smith – with the world watching – did everything with the basketball but take the air out of it.

   If Fitzsimmons was all eyes as Randy transformed the NBA All-Star game into “The Randy Smith Show,” Cotton’s worries are all over – at least in any future critical late-game situations the Braves may find themselves.

   I’m willing to bet that, from this moment on, whenever the Braves are in desperate need of a field goal in the dying seconds of a basketball match, Fitzsimmons will know exactly what to do.

   I mean, Cotton will do the logical thing.

   He’ll order Randy to take one of those high-percentage shots of his, one of those dazzling high-arching 35-footers – the kind that way, way up there, gather a little snow, then come down and go, “Swish!”

   What Randy Smith did Sunday, in the Atlanta Omni, is straight out of Frank Merriwell – or straight out of the wildest dreams of little kids who go to bed with their arms wrapped around a basketball.

   And what Smith did – what happened to him in the Omni – could not have happened to a more deserving fellow.

   FOR A LONG TIME now, Randy Smith has been one of the best basketball players in the business. And for an equally long time, all he ever got in the plaudits or recognition department – beyond the city limits of Buffalo – was the business.

   Despite the fact that talent oozes from his every pore, what Randy always received from pro basketball America was short shrift.

   In the balloting for this All-Star game, for example, Smith failed to make it among the top 10 guards in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. He picked up fewer votes than Al Lorenzo did in the last Democratic mayoral primary.

   Smith went into this game a veritable unknown basketball soldier.

   But Randy came out of this game a basketball guard of the highest rank, a celebrated hero, a basketball darling – a guy who, figuratively, was carried out of the arena on the shoulders of pro basketball America.

   USING THE OMNI AS his headquarters, Randy introduced himself to the pro basketball world – “Hello, all of you out there in basketball land; my name’s Randy Smith; I’m quite a pro basketball player; so watch and I’ll prove it.”

   Smith, in this All-Star match, showed ‘em all what he really is – a shooting star of breathtaking dimensions.

   With a wondrous, spellbinding demonstration of long-range firing, Smith, the city slicker from the East, won the West.

   Smith, the basketball pride of Buffalo, buried the West in a blizzard of baskets.

   Fittingly, the play on which Smith climaxed his 11-basket performance was his piece de resistance. It left the folks in the Omni – and in television land – gasping.

   The play was vintage Randy Smith.

   Randy stole the ball and dealt it to Julius Erving – and Erving shot and missed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Smith appeared, leaped, grabbed the rebound, put up a 15-footer and – “Swish!”

    SO NOW THAT THIS All-Star game is history, Randy Smith no longer is a Rodney Dangerfield of pro basketball – no longer is a guy who commands no respect from the nation’s basketball fans.

   They now know exactly who Randy Smith is – a sleek, quicksilver fellow with a marvelous outside jump shot and incredibly fast hands that can catch flies in mid-air and steal hubcaps off speeding automobiles.

   The fans now know that if there’s anything faster than Smith’s hands, it’s his feet.

    It was Smith’s blazing speed, by the way, that gave him his chance in pro basketball.

    Seven years ago, after the Braves drafted Smith seventh in the draft, Randy’s chances of making the Buffalo squad were regarded as slimmer than slim.

    Until he took one of Coach Dolph Schayes’ agility tests.

    THE FIRST DAY they passed out the uniforms that season, back in 1971, Smith popped the eyes of Schayes and the rest of the Braves brass with his performance in the agility drill.

   In this drill, the players ran from one end of the line of the court to quarter-court and back, then to half-court and back, then to three-quarter court and back, and finally to the other end line and back.

   Well, when Randy completed that first agility drill, his closest pursuer still hadn’t made it to the other end of the court.

    Randy was so much the best, so much the fastest, that he could have showered before the second guy got home.

    Right then and there, Schayes and the rest of the Braves people – Eddie Donovan, John McCarthy and Joe Niland – made up their minds.

  “For a kid with this kind of speed,” Schayes said, “there’s got to be a place on the squad.”

   SO RANDY SMITH stuck with the Braves. And now, today, fans everywhere know who he is and why guards who guard him run the risk of going cross-eyed – since it sometimes seems that there are three of him.

   Randy Smith, the fellow who for seven years, night after night, has played beautiful music out there on the basketball court – the guy who has conducted, composed, arranged – has finally been allowed to make all the curtain calls, instead of somebody else.

   Sunday afternoon, in the Atlanta Omni, justice was served.

For more on the Braves see the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” which features a comprehensive team history and over 260 vintage photos.

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