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Bills’ dysfunction mimics Braves’ demise

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Bills' owner Ralph Wilson

by Tim Wendel

A team a few bricks shy of a load. Small in stature at positions where that matters most. Week after week unable to finish close games.

That sounds an awful lot like the current Buffalo Bills football squad. But not so long ago that scouting report also summed up the Buffalo Braves basketball team. And, unfortunately, such organizational faults helped speed the team’s departure from Western New York.

In following the Bills’ ineptitude in recent seasons, I’m reminded of conversations I had with Bob McAdoo while writing Buffalo, Home of the Braves. The Hall of Famer, now in his 15th year as an assistant with the Miami Heat, talked at length about being patient. Having a plan and believing in it.

“Several times the pieces we had the pieces in our hands for a championship team,” McAdoo says, “and we let them go.”

Of course, one of the pieces that the Braves gave away was McAdoo himself – peddled to the New York Knicks in a Judas deal for John Gianelli and $3 million.

But there are plenty of other examples:

  • Trading away a young Moses Malone.
  • Firing Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay
  • Drafting Tom McMillen when Ricky Sobers, Lloyd Free, Gus Williams and Kevin Grevey were available.
  • Showing Jim McMillian, Gar Heard and Jack Marin the door.
  • Allowing John Y. Brown to turn the franchise into “ABA North.”

“Good teams know when to stand pat,” McAdoo told me. “With bad ones, things get too fast, too crazy. Before you know it, you look up and see you’ve lost what’s really important.”

With the Bills going through such uncertain times, here’s hoping they’ve learned a lesson from the old Braves. The fans in Buffalo are among the most knowledgeable I’ve ever come across. They know when team ownership has a real plan and when it is just another shell game.

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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.

Before Krzyzewski; Duke (and Braves) were better known for Jack Marin

August 7, 2008 Leave a comment


Still musing about globalization and sports regionalization as the Summer Games begin in China. The U.S. men’s basketball team arrived in Beijing to crowds chanting for Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

“The Chinese people love basketball,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and we’re excited we’re playing the first game against China.”

My prediction? This year’s Team USA brings the gold back to America, probably in convincing fashion.

One of the assistant coaches Krzyzewski has along for the Olympic carpet ride is Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim.

Boeheim was named the Orange’s coach my sophomore year at SU. A few years later, when I was the sports columnist for the local morning paper, I always appreciated Boeheim’s class. Sure, he could be sarcastic and didn’t suffer fools gladly. But he always returned my phone calls and made time to answer the media.

Since such meager beginnings, he’s gone on to a 771-278 record and was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. But way back when, when Boeheim first took over in the Salt City, the SU program was only slightly better than Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure in terms of national notoriety. The difference? Boeheim and Syracuse became charter members in the Big East conference, which ESPN soon made into a household word.

Also, consider how much things have improved for the NBA since the mid-1970s when Boeheim took over at his alma mater. In several cities besides Buffalo, the league was hanging on by its fingernails. Ironically, the Braves were one of the first teams to hype individuals instead of team. Guys like Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith and Dr. Jack Ramsay started to become known nationally while the team was going down the tubes locally.

Sometimes life comes down to the company you keep. Wrong choices can haunt a team, a city, for a long, long time.