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Catching up with: John Hummer, Buffalo Braves

John Hummer was the Braves’ first-round draft pick in 1970. He signed his professional contract at the old Gulf & Western Building near Columbus Circle, and then was told to head to LaGuardia Airport and a flight to Buffalo. It was a quick up-and-back, a chance to meet the hometown press and fans. No big deal. The only problem was that on the way to the airport Hummer realized he only had $15 in his pocket.

When the cab pulled up at the terminal, the fare read $14.90. “I tried to tell the cabbie what had happened, how sorry I was,” Hummer recently told me. “But he just threw the dime back in my face.”

An omen of what was to come perhaps? For in Western New York, some fans were steamed that the Braves had selected Hummer instead of local hero Calvin Murphy in the team’s inaugural college draft. Never mind that Hummer had nothing to do with that decision, those at the old Aud often laid into him.

“I couldn’t blame them,” Hummer said. “I knew what they wanted. They wanted Calvin Murphy and I wasn’t that kind of player.

At Princeton, Hummer was best known for his defense, which helped coach Pete Carril win the Ivy League and turn heads in the NCAA Tourney. His nephew, Ian, now stars for Princeton.

Despite the criticism, Hummer was often seen around Buffalo. “I was the only player in those early years to live downtown. Everybody else was out in Amherst or Williamsville. I had a place right off Elmwood Avenue. I enjoyed getting out and talking with the people. For me, Buffalo will always be the ultimate bar town.”

Hummer stayed with the Braves for three seasons before being traded to the Chicago Bulls in the deal that brought Kevin Kunnert and Gar Heard to Buffalo. Hummer finished his basketball career with the Seattle Supersonics. After his playing days ended, he earned an MBA from Stanford and co-founded a venture capital firm in San Francisco. Pets.com, Wind River Systems and Napster are just a few of the firms he’s invested in.

In looking back at his basketball career, Hummer occasionally wonders what could have been. For you see, the Milwaukee Bucks had the 16th selection in the 1970, right behind the Braves. “And Larry Costello wanted me,” Hummer says, “and arguably I would have been a better fit with the Bucks. But that’s the way it goes.”

(Costello coached the Bucks to the 1971 championship, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, and Oscar Robertson on the roster.)

During his NBA career, Hummer played for three Hall of Famers – Dolph Schayes, Bill Russell and Jack Ramsay. Two of them were during his time with the Braves.

“I loved Buffalo,” Hummer said. “Sure there were some ups and down, but I really enjoyed those days.”

.  Tim Wendel

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