By Tim Wendel
We could fill volumes with all the front-office blunders the Buffalo Braves made. A trail tears that includes trading Bob McAdoo, Adrian Dantley and Moses Malone for the likes of Swen Nater, Marvin “Bad News” Barnes and assorted other flameouts. Letting go of coach Jack Ramsay when the team appeared ready to finally overtake the Boston Celtics.
But what if the worst mistake the Braves ever made had nothing to do with any particular trade or move, no matter how egregious (I mean McAdoo to the Knicks for John Gianelli and cash?) Instead this sports franchise made a choice so disastrous early on that it proved to be Instant Karma. Real Lousy Instant Karma.
When the NBA awarded Buffalo a team in 1970, St. Bonaventure University and Syracuse University were among those already distancing from their Indian mascots. No more Brown Indians or Saltine Warrior.
Perhaps Carl Scheer and the original Braves ownership (prior to Paul Snyder) saw an opening in the regional marketplace when they decided to call themselves the Braves in honor of Western New York’s Native American history. But in making that selection did the Braves set themselves up for eight seasons of heartbreak?
According to Braves historian Budd Bailey, prior to entering the NBA the franchise held a contest and considered several names: “The most popular choice of the fans was “Frontiersmen,” listed on 74 entries. But Braves was declared the winner. ‘We wanted a name that not only symbolized what the athlete would do on the court but one that
would also be representative of the city of Buffalo,’ Scheer said.”
A few weeks ago, a friend in New York wondered if the Braves were the last professional franchise sport named for a Native American group or icon. One could make argue that the NHL’s Columbus Black Jackets came later, but that franchise insists that its nickname has nothing to do with Native Americans. And, indeed, if you set the Blue Jackets to one side, the Buffalo Braves are to be the last team in any professional sport to claim to an Indian linkage.
I always found it ironic that decades after team swapped franchises with the Boston Celtics and headed west to be the Clippers that the Braves’ star backcourt of Ernie DiGregorio and Randy Smith were working at two Indian casinos in New England. Talk about a strange twist of fate.
Would the team still be in Buffalo, perhaps with McAdoo’s and Smith’s retired numbers hanging from the rafters at First Niagara, if the team hadn’t dared call itself the Braves in the first place?
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.
Few thought so 30 years when the team switched franchises with the Boston Celtics before heading westward ho to become the Los Angeles Clippers. (The architect of that bizarre deal was a young lawyer named David Stern. But we’ll leave that twisted tale for another day.)
When the Braves left town, some civic leaders predicted that the NBA would be back in a decade or so. Seriously. They said that at the time. But one of the few guys who realized what this bait-and-switch really meant for the fans and the city was Phil Ranallo, the longtime columnist at The Buffalo Courier-Express.
I had the good fortune to sit next to Phil in the old C-E Sports Department in that paper’s last years of existence. He taught me about writing on deadline, how to get to real story and, most of all, how to have a sense of humor.
Phil nailed it when the Braves left town for good. He predicted that it would be a generation or more before the Niagara Frontier had another shot at a team of such stature. Back then we often debated the state of the sports world in late-night bull sessions at the paper. Several times Ranallo wondered aloud if the heyday of Buffalo had already come and gone. How with the economy suffering (this was the early 1980s) that it would difficult to hang on to remaining major-league franchises (The Bills, The Sabres).
Now some like to deride WNY as being behind the times. Unfortunately, when it comes to the impact of globalization, one could argue that Buffalo was cutting edge. It was one of first Rust Belt cities to be sold out by the politicians and see its jobs base flee overseas.
In Buffalo, Home of the Braves, we’re including several of Phil’s insightful takes on the team and the city. The man was ahead of his time and in some small measure our book is a tribute to him and an effort to bring his columns to a new generation of sports fans.