Jerry West’s recent autobiography West by West offers up a glimpse into the complex and often troubled life of a NBA legend. As a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, West visited Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium several times in the early 70’s. In fact West suffered a season ending knee injury at the Aud in a game against the Braves in 1971.
For Buffalo fans, West talks at length about the rebirth of Brave great Bob McAdoo with the Lakers. As General Manager of the Lakers, West took a flyer on McAdoo in 1981, to help the team’s push towards a NBA championship. Here are some of West’s recollections of McAdoo and former Brave Dave Wohl:
Bob MacAdoo who now works under Pat (Riley) for the Miami Heat was there and it brought back a sharp memory of mine, of how nearly everyone thought bringing him in midway through the 1981-82 season would be a disaster, partly because he had gotten a reputation for being difficult and there was a concern that he was washed up.
He had a bone spur injury and we needed to find out if he could still play, find out if he was still, more or less, the same guy would led the league in scoring three years in a row and been the MVP for one of them Dave Wohl, one of our scouts and a close friend of Bob’s when they were teammates on the Buffalo Braves flew, to New Jersey to watch him work out. I didn’t necessarily see him as a starter, but Bob certainly did and that created problems for him at first when he signed with us for a minimum wage contract. We were bringing Bob in because Mitch Kupchak had suffered a serious knee injury.
I talked to Bob at some length about what we needed from him —- his scoring as a way to open up the floor and take pressure off Kareem, and his defense (which was not something that had ever been asked of him before). I told him he would need to adjust to not just being the number one, or even the number two, option. But if he could do what I did outlined, he had a chance to win a championship. (Bob would say later how difficult it was for him to make the transition to coming off the bench, but he couldn’t have been more surprised by how he readily he was accepted by the new teammates with the exception of Kareem, that is, with whom he never had any real relationship to speak of). I had first seen Bob play as a senior in high school at a summer camp in North Carolina and I told him at the time, “Son you’ve got the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen. But don’t change it, because it goes in.”
Don’t miss the review of West by West, My Charmed, Tormented Life by Braves Historian Budd Bailey
Nice to see a sold out house in HSBC for the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The presence of high level hoops in Buffalo is a great change of pace, especially in a town dominated this time of year by Sabres’ hockey.
Thanks to Syracuse and West Virginia, which are within driving distance and sport loyal fan bases, HSBC will be packed all weekend. Announcers will gush about how Buffalo is one of the most exciting venues for the game.
Now close your eyes a moment and imagine what the scene would be like if a Braves banner, with the numbers of Randy Smith and Bob McAdoo, hung from the rafters. Or if a statue of Smith and McAdoo (think of Jordan’s outside the United Center) towered over patrons as they mingled into HSBC. Once again the connection between the present and the Niagara Frontier’s basketball past would exist.
Yes, the Orange’s Wes Johnson does remind one, at times, of Bob McAdoo. That Da’Sean Butler does run the court almost like our own Randy Smith.
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.
In this (believed to be his last “on the record” interview) recording from 2008, former Buffalo Brave and NBA All-Star Randy Smith discusses how his own determination led him from a long-shot 7th round draft pick to an enduring eleven year career. From 1972-1982, Smith played in every regular season game, en route to a then-record of 906 straight games (since broken by A.C. Green).
Smith talks in detail about the early days of the Braves, his friendship with budding superstar Bob McAdoo, the raucous Memorial Auditorium fans, and surviving the team’s tumultuous final seasons in Western New York. Among the interesting pieces, we learn that after a bizarre franchise swap in 1978, Smith received pay checks from the Boston Celtics, while playing games for the San Diego Clippers.
Twenty seven years after retirement, Smith remains the Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers franchise’s leading scorer. He died on a heart attack on June 4, 2009 after suffering a heart attack near his home in Connecticut.