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40 years to the day, Braves legacy lives on

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

By Chris Wendel

40 years ago today the Buffalo Braves played their first regular season basketball game, a 107-92 win over the Cavaliers before 7,129 fans in the pre-expanded Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Today, watching the Buffalo Sabres celebrate their 40th anniversary with much fanfare, it makes sense (and stings some too) to revisit why the Braves were the first of many “what could have been(s)” for Buffalo sports fans.

Randy Smith receiving the NBA All-Star MVP trophy in 1978

While many of us ponder with angst the future of the Buffalo Bills, the thought of replacing NFL football with another NBA franchise has been bantered about.  In a town that can’t figure out a practical development strategy for the old Aud site, it’s almost impossible to grasp a scenario where the NBA and a local ownership group would see value in investing in another NBA basketball franchise.

With all of this in mind, and on the 40th anniversary of the start of NBA basketball in Western New York, it is appropriate to revisit the legacy left behind by the Buffalo Braves:

  1. High scoring offense: After two lousy seasons that were typical of a new franchise, the Braves followed with a sudden meteoric rise utilizing a fast paced offense that was the precursor to today’s modern transition game. To get an idea, take a look at this archive video of a 1976 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-finals between the Braves and the Washington Bullets.
  2. Some solid draft choices : The Braves had three NBA Rookies of the Year in eight seasons with Bob McAdoo, Ernie DiGregorio, and Adrian Dantley. Dantley became the first Rookie of the Year in any major sport to be traded from his team before the start of his second season (more on that kind of catatonic management style in a minute). There were ill-fated draft picks as well including John Hummer and Tom McMillen.
  3. Bob McAdoo: The amazing emergence of Bob McAdoo, who followed up his Rookie of the Year season with three straight NBA scoring titles and NBA MVP honors for the 1974-75 season. Basketball Reference recently described McAdoo as “strangely absent from the NBA Top 50” selections.
  4. The unlikely path of Randy Smith: Drafted in the 7th round of the 1971 NBA draft (a courtesy pick by GM Eddie Donovan for not drafting Niagara standout Calvin Murphy in 1970). Smith’s raw talent and determination won out over time as he attained the NBA ironman record for most games played (since surpassed by A.C. Green) and became the MVP of the NBA All-Star game in 1978. Many of Smith’s franchise records (Braves/Clippers) remain intact almost 30 years after his retirement.
  5. Two Hall of Fame coaches, Dolph Schayes and Jack Ramsay: Ramsay left the Braves after the 1975-76 season and coached the Portland Trailblazers to the NBA title the following season. Schayes was fired one game into the team’s second season after failiing to produce a miracle with a team of older veterans and journeymen.
  6. Unhinged ownership: The Braves ownership was unstable from the start. Paul Snyder purchased the team shortly before the Braves first season and may not have known what he was getting into. Snyder’s management style accounted for the team’s rather quick improvement through player acquisition, but his impatience led to knee jerk coaching and personnel changes that short circuited any long-term stability. Snyder’s controlling behavior eventually drove away Jack Ramsay. In 1975 Snyder wanted out because of the Sabres’ control of decent playing dates (a valid point) selling the team to Kentucky Fried chicken mogul John Y. Brown. The bonehead moves made by the Braves during both the Snyder and Brown regimes are staggering to recount years later. Perhaps the biggest “what if” of them all were the transactions that obtained and traded Moses Malone (for money) after only two games and six minutes of playing time with the Braves. If Malone had stuck in Buffalo the Braves’ front line would have included Malone, McAdoo, and Dantley (all NBA Hall of Fame honorees). All three were traded within a year and the team was destined for somewhere other than Buffalo.
  7.  Positive fan support: The Braves fans generally supported its team and were never given a stable product in return. Meanwhile the Knox brothers quickly built the Sabres into contenders by understanding the concept of fan loyalty, keeping key players in Buffalo for most of their careers (not trading them like commodities). The Braves averaged close to 12,000 fans a game when they had winning seasons. Attendance predictably waned as the team traded its good players, the ownership whined about the lack of city and fan support, and the Sabres continued to build their team and fan goodwill.

With a more devoted ownership that stuck to any type of strategic plan, the Braves may have survived long-term in Buffalo. Regardless of the outcome, the Braves remain one of the NBA’s interesting historic footnotes. I know well versed NBA fans that are now in their 50’s who recall little about the Braves, yet history shows that for a brief shining moment professional basketball was significant and successful in Western New York.

To find out more about the history of the Buffalo Braves, look for the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves”, available on and through its publisher SunBear Press.


Rod Keaton’s latest, 0-5

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment
0 – 5
bills 26 – jagwires 36
…so catch this….
…it’s the worst start for the bills in 25 years …. they were 0-5 in 1985..when Bruce Mathison was QB…and Eason Ransom was the TE…(but that team also had Bruce Smith, Andre Reed,Joe Cribbs ,  Fred Smerlas, Joe D,Jim Richter,  Jim Haslett, Darryl Talley and other decent talent…so there was hope…)
 …and we didn’t even get to watch the History -tying debacle  here in B-Lo….the remarkable-under-the-circumstances  three year sellout streak came to an abrupt end with the appearance of the lowly and uninteresting  jagwires……and so the game was blacked out….at least it was beautiful, sunny , Fall day … I went for a long bike ride along the Tonawanda Creek bikepath………saw a lot of brilliantly colored trees…….most of the boats are out of the water………….not much rant material in that though…..
…so….to paraphrase Edwin Starr and  War ……Blackouts …what are they good for??…absolutely nothing!…. since there is no argument that bigtime sports , and the NFL in particular , is ALL about money,  I cannot figure out WHY there is still a Blackout Rule…..???….really…….it makes no Business Sense…
…so …does the NFL keep the Blackout  to “protect” the  Owners??……the Blackout Rule – in theory –  is designed to help the Owners  enhance game day revenues…..”Come to the game or miss out  on seeing your team!“……..but The Reality is that in all but about 6 or 8 NFL markets the Blackout Rule is not even an issue…..the sport  is so freakin’ popular that most NFL teams’ home games are sold out well  in advance  and have long waiting lists…. ……so, is it just the “small market teams ” that get screwed by this horrible rule ??….not always…Sandy Ego – which is about the 6th largest city in the country doesn’t sell out….atlanta  and phoenix when they  had bad teams didn’t sell out…….the Det-riot area is still huge …and they don’t sell out because…well , you know why…..because it’s the forever-rebuilding, Division II lyin’s ……….
………The Reality is that the Blackout Rule Appears To Protect Bad Owners….   that’s it.          …..and the operative word is “Appears
…the Blackout allows a few Bad Owners  like Ralph Wilson , and the Fords in Det-riot, bidwell in AZ , crazy al davis in choakland…… who consistently put out a bad product….to hold their vulnerable fan base hostage…
…but….the NFL as a business entity  does not  benefit by not showing their product to  several million fans every week just because a few  perennially inferior teams “only” sell 62,000 of its 71,000 seats………using the  Blackout  “belt” to punish and alienate fans ,who buy all that NFL-licensed  logo apparel and tune in faithfully to watch their team,  ain’t a good business move….
….the TV Networks – who are the REALLY BIG money suppliers to the NFL don’t win when a whole geographical area is blacked out….they lose advertising  fees…and the the local tv stations lose likewise…..bars and restaurants lose too ……I don’t get WHY the tv Networks Dogs  continue to let the NFL tail do this ..??…when the Networks   clearly call the shots on almost everything else football related … ( ie –  access to players/coaches for interviews ….ubiquitous pre-game shows…. Monday Night Football…Thursday Night Football…Sat Night Football…Sunday Afternoon Football….Sunday Night Football…..telecast-friendly starting times of 8:36 ….6:39….etc…ability to “flex” the start of “high interest” games  from afternoon to night  if they choose… games running until after midnight East Coast Time so that the west coast can see them.)
The Reality is  that ALL non-sellouts are the TEAM OWNERS fault…. if you have even a remotely decent team in the NFL – regardless of market size – your team’s game will sell out……….(see B-lo, cleveburg, sin city, kansas shitty, new orleans, phx…etc….) ……ok Sandy Ego and the three  former LA teams are an exception to The Reality….  because it’s Southern California….and everyone knows they’re weird people…. hey dude, like it is just not a pro football market despite it’s massive size ….so like chill….
…and The Reality is  the fans also lose out  because of this stupid Rule ….The Reality is that with the current costs of attending a game…$65-$400/ticket….$25-$100 to park …..$8 beers….$6 hot dogs…..$500 fines for DWI……a guy taking two offspring to a game will probably drop $200-$400 just to watch from the end zone…….a lot of  fans have literally been priced out the market in terms of actually attending games….yet they still love to watch and support  “their” team…..and tv broadcasts build team support…which translates to merchandising $$$
…also….an important point……I’m gonna guess that EVERY team in the NFL receives some kind of “public assistance” from the taxpayers in its community….mostly via lucrative stadium deals…the “pay back ” for accepting  this generous community handout  should be NO Blackouts ( hey Congress – wake up!) …..
…so ….if the fans don’t show up on Sunday( or Mon, or Thurs, or Sat) ….and game day revenue goes down ….too-effin-bad…… it’s The Owner’s fault! ….give HIM the incentive/penalty  to market a decent team by taking away the rusty axe he now holds over the fans’ collective  heads….EVERYONE will benefit…….gggrrrr…..
…ok…back to the blacked out game I didn’t see…..when you have a 3-0 advantage  in take-aways most teams probably win…..but..( play trump card) …..when the other team can go the WHOLE game without even ONE punt…your team  probably loses…
….when you get the ball inside the 3 yard line ..first and goalon two drives  in the first quarter…most teams  should probably get two TDs  and build up an intimidating 21-3 lead…..but ( play second trump card)….when you have sub-NFL quality offensive linemen who jump regularly offsides and hold on first down….your team  probably only gets two FGs….and only has a flimsy 13-3 lead….which they blow by halftime….
…..despite not forcing any punts…and giving up over 200 yards rushing….there may be one bright spot on defense…..they only gave up 36 points this week!!…down from the past two weeks when they gave up 38…..#11 pick in last year’s NFL draft ….alleged LB  aaron maybe ….played TWO downs in the game!!!…..depite starting only 10 games in college at $tate Penn…..he was given a $25 million contract to be an “impact player”…….and cannot even get on the field for  a team that gave up 36 points over 200 yards rushing…to the lowly jagwires ….???..
….what can I say?….this is a weak  team with flaws everywhere….and few real bright spots…….tyne daley and co have not shown us anything in terms of coaching improvement over last year’s  inept, and boring , cadaveresque crew…….
…but  I hate that everyone around here seems to be “going French ” and already running up the white flag so soon….and  resigned / hoping of getting the #1 pick in next April’s draft….be careful what you wish for……I would NOT want the bills to get the  first pick…unless there was a Peyton Manning -type player avaialble…which there isn’t ….( more likely to get a jamarcus russell or alex smith )….
….The Turk came one day early this week( not Tuesday??) …former 2008 third round pick /alleged LB Chris Ellis got waived for non-pass rushing and non-tackling….( on the team , this is called  “aaron maybe disease” ) ….. and  yeah I barely heard of him too… .
 …fortunately the bills have a BYE next week….cooter &Co can step back and figure out why their guys can’t tackle…or block…or throw…or catch….or not commit penalties….and then they can tweek things……and in two weeks come out with a vengeance against the crows in bal-more…………… ( is $tanford QB  Andrew Luck going to be in the draft this year??)
..moving the chains…
Endangered Species Dept : three more QBs got wrecked on Sunday….gradkowski ( choakland) …..Rodgers( Green Boys)…and Wallace ( Cleveburg) …. but who’s counting??….
….I was listening to Colin Cowherd’s  radio show the other day …IMO he is the most entertaining /informative sports common-‘tater in the media …..he was discussing the paradoxical weekend strategy  known as the  “Victory Tax“….whereby, you as a fan, would be well -advised to bet a small amount of money AGAINST  your favorite team EVERY week....the reasoning being that IF your team wins you are happy.. ..because they are your favs….and IF your team loses you are happybecause now you have won some extra money to go out  partying away the blues caused by your team’s loss…….interesting….you are happy no matter what!!…..and who doesn’t want to be happy in America??
..Another Bad Sign Dept : it’s getting harder and harder  find a bar in WNY that has the NFL Ticket….( some sports bars still have it) … costs so much…around $8000/season  I was told ….and it’s not enough to just have all those games on in your bar in WNY …you need to also have some “drink specials” to lure in the frugal fans here in B-Lo….so,  you have to sell an awful lot of $2.50 Blue Lights  just to pay for that $500 / day  tv lineup….can’t really blame the bars….
minnie -soda and the new jersey j-e-s-t are on MNF  now..after a lightning delay ( would it have been ironic if sandy ego chargers  was playing there??) …..and it’s a downpour now…new jersey/nyc ??…nice weather…..WHO could live there??..
bert ..bert..bert….shoulda stayed gone  when you were The King…….j’accuse!!………….yeah ..I know all that crap about “presumed innocence ” blah blah blah…….but even o.j. simpson doesn’t buy bert farve’s  half-hearted denials of the sordid sexting claims by several women that just surfaced.( …uh..don’t want to go..uh..into that…”  ….???…that’s it??…that’s all you got???………and having seen/heard the evidence on the website  I have to say that unless the CIA or Frank Caliendo is out to get bert…he is in a heap o’ trouble….if ben-rot got 4 games suspension for his adolescent sexual transgressions …this has got to be at least that much… ( plus he has got to be  in big trouble back home…yeow)…… judge for yourself….but Warning: it IS very explicit in places…( now you’ll check it out  for sure!) .
…BUT…..on the plus side…I hear that desperate “news” network  CNN  is talking about a new talk show gig for him ….teaming up with fellow uber-stud elliott spitzer…. they’re  gonna call it ” #4 and #9 “ …….
Favorite Player-Name O’ The Week… boy LB …Desmond Bishop “tutu”  ….’s the only time of year I watch baseball…..but it’s a great tv sport in hi def….and there’s  been some really good games……so much strategy….I wish all pitchers worked  as fast as philly’s Cole Hamels….no wasting time ….I also wish the sport-ruining yankee$  to lose…….
Serious Question…(and I know from experience the Rantees usually have the Answers) ….: What’s up with those  rope-like colored necklaces that so many  baseball players wear??….no other sports guys wear those…??…………………………( and …um….where can I get one??….they are much cooler than those black nylon stretch- caps the football players wear…..and wouldn’t it be cool to text a pic of me wear……….nevermind…..)
….UB BULLS HIT …..Bulls coming off a BYE week play a mac game  at Northern Illinois …..that opponent appears to have  only one famous alumni of note…but he’s a pretty good one….Dan Castellaneta (Class of ‘79)….who is the Emmy Award winning voice of Homer Simpson !! ( D’OH!)
…FYI…..Baseball Sneeker strip  attached….
–  Hunter Mahan …..U.S. golfer / choker  that let us all down…..and cost America the beloved Ryder Cup last week …..(  damn …I wish I woulda bet a small amount of money against America…I’d be happy now!)  

Questioning loyalty to Bills leads nowhere

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

After yet another disappointing loss, the dismal performance of the Buffalo Bills persuaded me to question with friends how far loyalty goes with one’s hometown team. After Buffalo dropped to 3-6 with a 41-17 drubbing at the hands of Tennessee Titans, I threw out the idea of changing my allegiance (at least for the rest of this season).

After eliminating the teams that I’ve grown to despise (Jets, Patriots, Dolphins) the teams left to consider included the Bengals, Chargers, and Broncos.

Living now in Michigan after growing up in Western New York, there’s never been a reason to root for the Lions (with the exception of Barry Sanders). Spending ten years of my life in Colorado and as much fun as it was going to Denver Bronco games in the old Mile High Stadium, my heart still belongs with the Bills.

As I write this New England is beating up on Indianapolis, the same New England team the Bills seemed to have handled in the first game of the season, before giving away the game in the final minutes. That seems so long ago now, but that game has me wondering if the Bills season could have played out differently.

museum store_imageTo temper my delusion, I’ll soon escape to the Buffalo and Western New York Historical Society to view the exhibit featuring 50 Years of Bills History. It will allow me to look back at happier days or suffer several decades of futility all in one afternoon.

P.S. The Patriots blew their lead and eventually lost to Indianapolis. It should be noted that there is a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing New England also squander a game that it had seemingly won.

Braves Book Update: Buffalo, Home of the Braves is now on sale at seven independent book stores in the Buffalo area including the Buffalo and Western New York Historical Society Museum Shop. Purchases can also be made online from SunBear Press.

Book release; Behind the scenes

August 29, 2009 Leave a comment

cover6It’s been several months since the book ‘Buffalo, Home of the Braves” hit the shelves. In the whirlwind of activity since the May 30th release, I’ve only recently been able to put it all in some perspective. In recapping the events, truth does sound much stranger than fiction:

Thursday  May 28th: After four years, endless editing, and a small fortune of investment, I finally hold the book in my hands. My initial thoughts focus on how much girth the finished book has. It feels heavy and looks great.

I pick up about 30 boxes of books from Village Press in that is located in Traverse City, Michgan (where I’ve resided for the past 21 years), and load them into a rental car for the 10-hour ride to Lockport where my parents still live. I realize then that the book project has taken me back at least a dozen times to the Buffalo area, usually on a seven hour route through southern Ontario. This time I have hundreds of coffee table-style books in the trunk that would be difficult to explain to Customs agents.

Instead I take the long way, along the southern shore of Lake Erie through Cleveland. As the sun sets in the west, I drive through Cleveland, just the Cavs are about to tip off against Orlando in the NBA Semi-finals. Part of me wants to stop and take in the game, but I think better of it and carry on.

Friday May 29th: Up early to prep for the next day’s book signing, also trying on the fly to figure out a way to set up a production line arrangement for pre-ordered books that need to be mailed out. The first ones go out from the post office in tiny Gasport, New York,  a few hundreds yards from the grade school that I attended many years ago. That’s the way it is on this trip, a sense of urgency with getting the book thing right, sprinkled with odd flashbacks to the past.

In the afternoon I deliver the first book personally to a one, Mark Savone. Mark and I first met at the “Farewell Old Friends” event back in November that celebrated the tear down of the old Aud. Since then he has called almost weekly to get an update on the book, saying each time that he can’t wait to get his hands on it. I set the GPS to his home in Tonawanda, arriving promptly at the annoited time. Standing there by the street is Mark, guiding me in, waiting wearing a Yankees jacket. Our first customer sees the book and he’s excited, therefore I’m excited.

Next stop is the University of Buffalo. I had met the UB basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon a few months earlier, and knew he was a Braves fan growing up in Western New York. I took a chance and stopped by the basketball office, figuring that he might be in. I first ask to drop off a copy, and the front desk manager goes back to see if Witherspoon is available.

To my surprise Reggie has me come back to his office. We talk for a few minutes and he begins to provide a back story to many of the events and photos surrounding the Braves. He obviously likes the book, and I’m even happier. I have to leave for a scheduled appointment at the UB Bookstore (early on they wanted to carry the book followed by several local independent bookstores). Witherspoon informs me that he won’t be getting much work done today because he plans on reading the entire book.

I meet up with Dennis May who I also met at the November Aud event. He had agreed to help us out with the book signing. After bringing the UB bookstore their books, we stopped back to see Reggie Witherspoon (he was still liking the book). Dennis rides along as I fulfill a bookstore order in Orchard Park, and although he’s a good ten years younger then me, I’m impressed by his vast knowledge of Buffalo sports history.

Saturday May 30th: My brother Tim arrived late Friday night. After a quick breakfast at Tim Horton’s, we arrive at the New Era Cap Company who graciously let us use the meeting room at their Delaware Avenue flagship store for our book signing.

The event goes well, not too overwhelming ,but a steady combination of fans, season ticket holders, team personnel, friends, and family.  One person has driven an hour from Rochester, others hang out to talk about the Braves legacy and how they could be permanently honored at the new HSBC Arena

Bob Smith, the photographer makes an appearence, John Boutet fills the room with his amazing collection of Braves memoribilia, and John Murphy of WIVB (and the voice of the Buffalo Bills) arrives to interview Tim for a story for a future sports cast. The two hours goes by quickly and sales for the day reach my expectations. We pack up and retreat to a local bar for a late lunch.

We receive a call from Paul Ranallo, son of the late Phil Ranallo. Paul had reached the signing late and wanted a copy of the book. I invite him to the bar, and hear first hand, stories of the great Buffalo Couier Express sports columnist. A beer or two is in order while the tales (and jokes) of Buffalo’s glorious sports past flow.

With the conversation winding down. Another call comes from our parents who have stopped by the Aud demolition after the book singing event. They think it was worth visiting, I’m not so sure. After some deliberation, Tim and I make the seven block trek to where the Terrace Street entrance is/was.

Aud 5-30-09We were able to get much closer to the site than I imagined. Looking west through a chain link fence, we were able to see a crane with a claw like device working away on a facade, somewhere in the orange balcony section. In the open air on a warm Saturday the place where we spent so many cold winter family nights is slowly dismantled.

Next: Dealing with the news of Randy Smith

The last interview, Randy Smith

August 8, 2009 Leave a comment

(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.

Buffalo News’ Jerry Sullivan on new Braves book

May 23, 2009 4 comments

Buffalo News sportswriter had a great column on the Braves’ anthology: “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” this morning. He spoke with Tim yesterday, and was it was nice to have the column published before next week’s book signing and Jerry’s well deserved Florida vacation.

We heard from a lot of Braves’ fans today, many transplanted to other parts of the country but still with a strong affinity to Western New York and the Buffalo Braves, just like us. At day’s end we’re ending up as the number two sports story, what’s #1? The west wall of the Aud that came crumbling down as its demolition winds down.

The book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” is close to completion. On Saturday, May 30, 2009, a book release celebration event will be held in Buffalo.

From 11 AM – 1 PM that day, author Tim Wendel will be available for the signing of purchased copies of the book in the Community Room of the New Era Cap Company, located at 160 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.

“Buffalo, Home of the Braves” can also be purchased online prior to the celebration event from SunBear Press.

Here’s your chance; What made the Braves special?

May 8, 2008 1 comment

After uncovering more classic Braves photos, the release of the book “Buffalo Home of the Braves” has been delayed until early this fall. Putting out a publication centering on professional basketball as summer approaches would be tough and there’s still work to do. We made the decision to delay the release and do things right rather than sacrifice the quality of what is shaping up to be a true testimony to Buffalo’s basketball history.

The respite gives us the quick opportunity to ask for your specific recollections of what it was like to attend a Braves game. Or you can weigh in to assess what role you believe the Braves played in the history of Buffalo history.

Did NBA basketball get a fair shake in Buffalo? Would the Braves have survived in the difficult economy of the 1980’s ? What specific event made or broke the Braves fortune in Buffalo? What game stands out in your mind? Answer or comment on these topics or one of your own

Some accounts will be woven into the coffee table book that already includes great vintage photos, newspaper columns and Braves memorabilia. We’ll open things up to you the fan until June 1st, 2008.

Just place your input in the comment section below or email:

Categories: 70's, Buffalo Braves, fans, NBA, picture