By Chris Wendel
Clear skies and unseasonably warm weather greeted my brother Tim and I as we visited Western New York last week. Despite our affinity for the area we grew up in, it’s not often that we are there at the same time.
Tim was invited to speak in our hometown of Lockport, at an author’s event held at the Lockport Public Library. Also featured was Buffalo News sportswriter Amy Moritz. Both reflected on their Lockport roots and the impact of growing up in the area had on their career paths, writing, and relevant sports related topics. There were plenty of Braves fans at the event, many of which were still seeking clarification on the final resting place of the franchise (it’s complicated, but the answer is Boston).
The two-day tour also included visits to the Archive Department of Buffalo State College whose staff was instrumental in the compilation of the book Buffalo, Home of the Braves, the Sabres photo exhibit at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, restaurants serving great but not necessarily the most nutritious food (can you say Ted’s?), and our parents’ house (where we also grew up) near the Erie Canal.
The Sabres exhibit is worth seeing, with an interesting short film loop with incredibly fast paced footage taken from player helmet cameras at a Sabres game played at HSBC Arena.
By Tim Wendel
Of course, height is often paramount in basketball. As the NBA Finals get ready to tip, much of the discussion has been about the front lines. Andrew Bynum’s knee. Kendrick Perkins’ technical fouls. Phil Jackson calling out Kevin Garnett.
But the series could turn on another crucial element that Buffalo Braves fans know all so well – speed.
Today is the one-year anniversary of Randy Smith’s death. He was the local star who often transformed the game on the fly.
“Randy Smith was the perfect physical specimen,” Van Miller, the team’s legendary play-by-play man, told us during the writing of Buffalo, Home of the Braves. “There wasn’t an ounce of fat on the guy. … Randy was so quick that he could guard anybody.”
Or beat anybody else down the court, even when dribbling the ball.
NBA insiders know how valuable speed can be. Rajon Rondo was only a pup when the Celtics won the championship in 1998. Now he has matured into the team’s court leader due, in large part, to his ability to fly down the floor.
In a few weeks, the NBA draft will be held and Kentucky’s John Wall is expected to be the top choice overall. He’s not a big man, either. But Wall also has the ability to run the floor, too.
Both of them are following in Randy Smith’s footsteps.
(Full 20 minute version) Randy Smith Interview Recorded in 2008 by author Tim Wendel for the book: “Buffalo, Home of the Braves”
In what is believed to be Buffalo Brave great Randy Smith’s last “on the record” interview, Smith discusses what it took to make it in the NBA, the early days of the Braves, his friendship with Bob McAdoo, the great appreciation he received from the Buffalo fans,and surviving the ups and downs with the ill-fated Braves franchise.
31 years after the Braves left Buffalo (and eventually became the Los Angeles Clippers, sort of), Smith still hold many of the franchise’s records including points scored and games played.
When asked who had the biggest impact on his career, Smith recalls a belief and determination in himself, as the major factor that formed his professional basketball success.
Drafted out of Buffalo State in the 7th round of the 1971 NBA draft, Smith defied the odds to set the NBA “iron-man” record with 906 consecutive games played (since broken by A.C. Green in 1997).
Randy Smith died on June 4, 2009 after suffering a heart attack near his home in Connecticut.
By Tim Wendel
Kevin Collins, a good friend of Buffalo, Home of the Braves, has come up with an intriguing answer to my question about what current NBA team to root for? Kevin reminds me that in light of the bizarre franchise swap of 1978, “the old Braves are the new Celtics and the old Celtics are the Clippers.”
So does that mean we can revel in winning last year’s title? Probably not. I don’t any parade preparing to head down Main Street. Still, I like the idea of the Braves living on as a championship club. Perhaps that’s what has always bothered me about the Braves’ institutional memory and storied history simply being passed off on the woebegone Clippers.
At their best the Braves had plenty of personality and top-flight talent. Already I can hear the mantra in my head – McAdoo, Ramsay, Ernie D., Randy, etc., etc., etc. As we all know, with a bit of luck and another wide body under the boards (where for art thou, Moses Malone?) the Braves could have been champions in their own right, in their own time.
Put me down as another guy who’s had it up to here with Boston teams winning championship after championship. That’s saying something for a kid who grew up a Red Sox fan. That happened because when they assigned teams decades ago in the Gasport (N.Y.) Little League, my squad was the Red Sox. Gosh, we suffered as much as the big leaguers once did, going winless one season and never making the playoffs in those often interminable games hard by Route 31.
But such anguish, at least on the baseball front, was vanquished in recent years. Boston, of course, has become a beggars banquet of victory with the recent successes of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. Meanwhile, Buffalo remains at the horse latitudes in terms of championships won. Adrift at sea since the Bills last won in 1965. No, I don’t count trophies by the Buffalo Bandits.
Sports Illustrated called the recent Celtics-Lakers Final the series America had been waiting for. Don’t sign me up for that rodeo, though. Sure, I appreciated Larry Bird as much as the next guy, even though I cheered for Magic Johnson the last time those two teams went around the Finals block.
You see, I’m like many Braves fans. When I see that Celtic green, I flash back to Jo Jo White, Don Nelson, Tom Heinsohn and all those other guys who broke our hearts time after time in the mid-1970s. Enough is enough.
As I watched the Celtics oust the Detroit Pistons last night, I remembered an interview I did with Randy Smith for Buffalo, Home of the Braves. Smith was the guy caught in the middle of the most confusing team swap in sports history. Here’s how he remembers that bizarre period:
“Once John Young Brown got his hands on the team, Buffalo was the last place he wanted to have it play. He and I used to talk a lot. He’d tell me about the possibility of the team going to Dallas, San Diego, Kentucky — it was inevitable that the team was going to leave the Buffalo area. Then I woke up one morning to hear that he had made a swap of entire teams.
“I was home in Buffalo. Somebody called me from the Braves’ office to tell me the news. … I started to get checks from the Boston Celtics for deferred payments, even though I was going west to play for this new team, the Clippers. I didn’t know where to expect my checks to come from, but, you know, you don’t care as long as they don’t bounce.”