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Catching up with: John Hummer, Buffalo Braves

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

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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Audio archives/ Pete Weber: Braves blessed with announcing talent

September 5, 2010 Leave a comment

 The Buffalo Braves had their misfortunes on and off the court, but they were blessed to have some incredible voices calling the action. Of course, the team’s only play-by-play man was Van Miller and Danny Neverth was the team’s announcer at Memorial Auditorium. In addition, Pete Weber did several award-winning reports about the Braves during his salad days at WEBR.

Pete’s Buffalo roots run deep. He called college action for football, basketball and hockey at the University of Buffalo. He had a longtime association with the Buffalo Bills, including hosting radio shows with Bill Polian, Marv Levy and Jim Kelly. He also did play-by-play for the Rochester Red Wings and had a 13-year run with the Buffalo Bisons.

Pete has been the voice of the NHL’s Nashville Predators since the team’s first season in 1998-99.

Here enjoy Pete’s take on the Braves in this archival audio: Braves Comeback vs Lakers 11_9_76 OTW 121-116

Where are they now? Bob Kauffman

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Bob Kauffman contacted us a few days ago, after receiving a copy of the Buffalo Braves anthology: “Buffalo, Home of the Braves”. Kauffman of course was a driving force in the early years of the Braves franchise, and was a three-time NBA All-Star with Buffalo. He was flattered by the book and thought back fondly on his playing days in Western New York.

Here’s an edited audio version of the voice mail message that Kauffman was kind enough to leave:  bob kauffman voice mail

This short excerpt from “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” demonstrates Kauffman’s commitment to Buffalo:  “The franchise did its best to win over local fans. Coach Schayes and his players put on more than 80 local basketball clinics. They did so to “get people more interested in professional basketball,” Kauffman later told former Buffalo sportscaster Pete Weber. “What we started there was the good will that the Braves cared about the people of Western New York. It was a romance and we drew well for the first couple of years because we cared, we tried, we worked.””

Transcript version of Bob Kauffman's message: "Hey Chris Wendel, this is Bob Kauffman in Atlanta Georgia. I want to thank you very much for sending me a copy of the new book on the Braves, that Tim did and the you guys collaborated on and everything else.

I just wanted to thank you very much, it’s tremendously informative, it brings back awesome memories, and I also regret that franchise had to leave, because Buffalo was a wonderful place for Judy, me, and my family. I just wanted to thank you guys for doing what you did, it is really awesome.

Thanks for writing about the Braves, I never envisioned it, but you knew there was a market for it. It looks like it was a lot of love was put into it and it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks once again to both of you and everyone else who was involved."

Interest in Braves’ legacy continues to build

May 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The success of the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” began long before it was published, with the establishment of a strong online presence. We started our internet work with A Bigger Voice, a community-building organization out of Colorado and continued drawing interest through the book’s writing, editing, and publishing phases, finding those who fondly remember the “Golden Era of Buffalo Sports” of the 1970’s, when Western New York had three viable professional sports franchises.

A few days ago we formed a Facebook Group Page that has quickly gained over 250 followers and has sparked more discussion about Buffalo’s sports history.  Along the way we’ve sold quite a few books, and continue to find a loyal audience of folks who like us, grew up attending Sabres and Braves games at the Aud.

Through our blog site Buffalo Nation and other related sites we’ll continue the dialogue. Look for a new book related to that “Golden Era in Buffalo Sports” that will be released later this year. More on that soon.

Arenas has nothing on Buffalo’s “Bad News” Barnes

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

By Tim Wendel

Gilbert Arenas bringing at least three guns into the Washington Wizards’ locker room has made headlines nationwide. That the All-Star guard tried to pass off the incident as a practical joke is quite a reach. Still, any Braves fan knows that Agent Zero has a long way to go before surpassing the antics of one Marvin “Bad News” Barnes.

Old Marvin not only stowed guns in his locker, but he snorted cocaine during games and traveled with hookers on the team plane. He was better suited to be a member of Led Zeppelin or Rick James’ backup band than a professional athlete.

After starring at Providence, where he once sank a record 10 for 10 from the field in the NCAA playoffs, Barnes won rookie of the year honors in the American Basketball Association with the Spirits of St. Louis. Even though his wild lifestyle made him a shadow of his former self, Braves owner John Y. Brown brought him over from the Detroit Pistons (in exchange for John Shumate, Gus Gerard and a high draft pick) for the 1977-1978 season. Of course, this would prove to be the Braves’ last time around the block in Buffalo, and Barnes did his part to push the team over the edge.

More than 15,000 packed Memorial Auditorium for Barnes’ debut with the Braves. Posters of Bad News with the caption, “Buffalo is Marvin’s Gardens” were handed out.

Despite such a promising start, Barnes soon wore out his welcome in Western New York, too. But that didn’t mean there weren’t some tales to tell along the way. One of my favorites comes from Van Miller, the Braves’ play-by-play announcer.

“Marvin Barnes was past his prime by the time he got to the Braves,” Miller once told me. “But that didn’t stop him from still going around in style. Marvin was late pretty much for everything, so one day the team is practicing at a high school in Buffalo and Marvin comes in a half-hour late. But that doesn’t bother him one iota. He walked into that practice with a beautiful woman on each arm. He sat them in the bleachers at this school gym and they waited patiently until practice was over. Afterward Marvin cleaned himself up and then walked out of the joint with one on each arm.”

Last March, Providence College retired Barnes’ jersey, along with the numbers of Jimmy Walker and Ernie DiGregorio, another ex-Brave.

At the ceremony, Barnes joked that while it may take a village to raise a child, in his case it had taken “a whole state, State police, DEA, everyone.”

A Banner Request for the New Year

January 1, 2010 Leave a comment

by Tim Wendel

It was downright heartening to see the Sabres come back against Pittsburgh the other night. Not only did they take down “Sid the Kid” and those annoying Penguins, but they rolled back the clock, so to speak. The victory reminded me of an era when Buffalo teams were offensive juggernauts.

When the Braves were a contender in the mid-1979s, the rap against them was their often-lackluster defense. In fact, that’s the major lesson coach Jack Ramsay took away from his stint in Western New York.

“Sometimes you have to be able to stop the other team,” he told me decades later when I was putting together Buffalo, Home of the Braves.

To that end, Doctor Jack went looking for a new team with tall timber underneath and he found it in Portland, where he and Bill Walton won a title together.

That’s all well and good, but there’s also something to be said for being able to score. In watching the Bill stumble to the end of another dismal season I grew nostalgic for the old days when they could put up points almost as quickly as the old Braves. One could argue that the Bills of the 1970’s played defense about as well as the Braves did, too. Still, they had playmakers on offense and continued to rack up points pretty much until this current crop came along, which barely put up three points against Atlanta.

When I think about the Braves in their heyday, it’s difficult to differentiate them from the Bills and the Sabres because every team in town could score, seeming at will. You could see Bob McAdoo & Co. put up a bushel load one night and come back to witness the French Connection & Co. do pretty much the same thing the next at that grand old barn of a building called the Aud. OK, the Braves, Bill and Sabres didn’t bring home any titles during those epic runs. But, all in all, it sure was a lot more fun to watch.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for helping make Buffalo, Home of the Braves a reality. Now let’s get a banner to that team raised at HSBC.

30 years later franchsise swap begs for answers

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

By Tim Wendel

NBA Commissioner David Stern knows how quickly a sport can die, how its very integrity can be called into question. One of his first jobs in 1966, as outside counsel for the NBA, was the Connie Hawkins case. A star of the Brooklyn playgrounds, Hawkins associated with a known gambler, and that was enough to have him blacklisted from the league.

At the time, basketball was still recovering from point-shaving scandals that rocked the game in the 1950s. Top players, such as Kentucky All-Americans Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, were bribed by gamblers to make sure their teams didn’t cover the point spread. The City College of New York — the only team to win the NIT and NCAA titles in the same season – was involved and never returned to prominence.

Today, with former referee Tim Donaghy still making waves for fixing NBA games, commissioner Stern likely cannot help but flash-back to those dark days in the 1950s. Stern realizes as well as anybody how fast a sport can fade away.

Thirty years ago, boxing was on top of the world. Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali were household names — national heroes. A Saturday night bout was almost certainly water-cooler talk on Monday morning. Now the sport in which they were once kings has become a shell of its former self.

During that sport’s fall from grace, the public often wondered if the fix was in. Too many times what happened in the ring was manipulated — boxers lost fights on purpose; promoters, judges and referees rigged things to favor one party over another.

The recent news of Donaghy reminds me of another time when I wondered if the fix was really in. If there was much more than met the public eye?

In Buffalo, Home of the Braves, we detail how John Y. Brown swapped the entire franchise with Irving Levin, the owner of the Boston Celtics. One of the architects of that stunning team swap, perhaps the ultimate trade of all time, was David Stern.

Levin headed west with his team, becoming the Lost Angeles Clippers. Brown’s new Celtics, dare we say the old Braves, somehow held the draft right to collegian Larry Bird when the dust settled. Thanks to such an influx of talent, they returned to championship form.

“I was home in Buffalo. Somebody called me from the Braves’ office to tell me the news…,” Randy Smith told me years later. “I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it.”

With that, basketball’s glory days in Buffalo ended.