Bob DiCesare column: Raising the flag for hoops.
The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Our area has a rich basketball heritage, one that dates to the 1950s. We’ve been home to Naismith Hall of Famers, NBA rookies of the year, college All-Americans and national scoring champs.
One of the world’s great athletic wonders, the Bo Jackson of his day, went to college here and emerged from the depths of the draft to forge a record-setting NBA career that commenced with the Buffalo Braves. One of the top 10 collegiate centers of all time came out of a Buffalo high school, played in the Final Four and embarked on a long and distinguished Hall-of-Fame career.
It’s only right that we acknowledge the historical pedestal on which they reside. It’s time to have a banner day for Buffalo basketball and hoist flags recognizing the worthy to the roof of HSBC Arena.
Reggie Witherspoon, homegrown basketball coach of the University at Buffalo, came up with the idea, and what a marvelous one it is. It would be ideal, Witherspoon said, to build the ceremony around an NBA exhibition game, preferably one involving the Miami Heat, whose coaching roster includes Bob McAdoo, who was NBA Rookie of the Year with the Braves, NBA MVP with the Braves, the player you think of first whenever you think of Buffalo‘s good old NBA days.
McAdoo would be a shoo-in for a banner. So would Randy Smith, a Buffalo State College grad who was an All-American in soccer, basketball and track, a trifecta made all the more impressive considering Smith felt baseball was his best sport. The Braves threw the local college star a bone by selecting him and his suspect jump shot in the seventh round of the 1971 draft. Smith never stopped repaying his debt of gratitude, playing in a record 906 straight games and coming off the bench to earn MVP honors in the 1978 NBA All-Star Game.
Who else is deserving? Calvin Murphy, Niagara’s All-American guard, is a must. The world-class baton twirler dumped 48 on Canisius on Jan. 13, 1968, breaking the Memorial Auditorium scoring record in the first Little Three game in which he ever played. A little over a year later he had 27 in a two-point loss to St. Bonaventure, the closest the Bonnies came to losing a Little Three game during the Bob Lanier era. He set a then-NBA record by converting 78 straight free throws. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Yeah, Calvin cuts it.
Lanier? How can we pass on Lanier? One of the stipulations for having a banner should be a show of excellence at the Aud. Lanier, a Bennett grad, played sparingly there as a collegian and a pro, and there’s no ignoring the man who would have delivered Bona a national title, guaranteed, had Villanova’s Chris Ford not taken out his knee in the 1970 NCAA Elite Eight.
Other candidates abound. There’s John McCarthy of Canisius, who played seven years in the bigs. And Ernie DiGregorio, NBA Rookie of the Year with the Braves in 1974, a season in which he set the rookie single-game assist record of 25. Anyone for Larry Fogel? Coming up with nominations is the easy part. It’s reducing the list that becomes the challenge.
Buffalo‘s basketball history should have a place above the main stage at HSBC. The city’s hoops history deserves recognition. There should be kids pointing to the banners overhead and asking their parents, or their grandparents, “Who was Bob Lanier?” Just the way they do with Tim Horton, the French Connection, and the Knoxes.