By Chris Wendel
Last night the Cleveland Cavaliers “won” the NBA Lottery to select first in this summer’s player draft. What was somewhat lost was the fact that the pick originally belonged to you guessed it, the Los Angeles Clippers. LA traded the pick as part of the trade with Cleveland on February 24th.
It seems the more things change the more they remain the same for the Clippers/Braves franchise. In its first year of existence GM Eddie Donovan traded the Braves’ first draft choice to the Baltimore Bullets for guard Mike Davis. Davis had been on the NBA’s all-rookie team in 1969-70. In the process, Buffalo passed over the potential choice of Niagara stand-out and later NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy
* “I had done all of Calvin Murphy’s games at Niagara,” recalled Van Miller, the Braves’ legendary play-by-play man. “Pound for pound, Calvin is the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen. He could dunk the ball and he was a tough guy. He was the one guy that nobody, and I mean nobody, ever fooled with. Nobody in that league ever messed with Calvin Murphy. Eddie Donovan was a great GM for the Braves and other teams, but I, like a lot of people from Western New York, will never forgive him for not taking Calvin Murphy in that first draft.” *
Perhaps we are all delusional when it comes to believing that early draft choices determine a team’s future. After all, the Clipper/Braves’ all-time leading scorer is still Randy Smith, who was a 7th round pick by the Braves in 1971, selected to appease the local fan base after passing on Murphy the previous year. Smith’s unlikely rise out of Buffalo State to NBA All-Star status was difficult for anyone to predict. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
This piece from Steve Perrin Clips Nation blog describes last night’s happenings from a Clipper fan’s perspective.
*From the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves”
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
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.
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.”
- B is for Books, E. Quaker Street, Orchard Park
- UB Bookstore North Campus off of Audubon Road
- The Book Corner Main Street, Niagara Falls
As I recollect the chronology of this book it dawns on me how long the process has taken and how many pilgrimages I have made to Buffalo. Recently someone asked me why I have dedicated so much time and effort into a book about the Braves.
You see I was a Sabres fan first growing up. Playing hockey from age eight to eighteen in Lockport (when it had a rink) put hockey at the forefront. Still I had good recollections of the Braves. I believe I first heard the cheer “Let’s go, Buffalo!” at a Braves game televised in 1970. Now my five year old says the same cheer in the same old cadence, when we drive past a field of bison on our regular trips to town. The years may pass but it has stayed with me.
July ’05: The Courier Express files have a limited number of Braves pictures; this is going to be a problem. What kind of coffee table book will it be without a large number of action photos? I start to search ebay for photos and memorabilia. Plenty of miscellaneous Topps cards, pennants, and Elton Brand throw back jerseys. One day I end up with a great video collection of Braves highlight films narrated by Van Miller.
Why not put the video into a CD that could be added to the book? I check with my contact with the NBA legal department who warns me to quell any video aspirations. The league is apparently quite protective of any of their video and the Braves intellectual property still belongs to the NBA, not the LA Clippers.
January ’06: Through my “real” job I run into a graphic design person here in Michigan who might be right for putting the book together. He has a strong affinity for sports and quickly shows an interest in what we are trying to do. He starts to appreciate the Braves despite the fact that he grew up in Saginaw and knows much more about hockey and the Tour de France then basketball.
March ’06: Another trip to Buffalo to file through Ranallo columns and past Courier articles. There are plenty of banner headlines highlighting a big Braves win, the amazing scoring exploits of Bob McAdoo, or a 17,000 night of attendance at the Aud.
I get some solid leads on former team photographers through two Braves fans who wonder why I’m always bidding against them for items. One asks; “What are you doing writing a book or something?”
The odyssey leading to the photographers is next.