Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Update

by Chris Wendel

It's interesting but predictable to see the hits on this blog dwindle as we vamp and discuss Buffalo sports happenings independent of the Braves. I was tempted to give my take on the Bills sojourn to Toronto last week but when the game failed to generate any strong reaction (other than low level of disgust similar to the Braves 77-78 season) but I thought better of it and decided it best to cut to the chase.

We're moving into the home stretch on the completion and printing of "Buffalo, Home of the Braves". The large coffee table style book documents the eight year run of the Buffalo Braves is scheduled for release in February of 2009. We've been delayed numerous times by edits, new photo acquisitions, securing memorabilia, and the unforeseen events in one's life. This time I'm very confident we'll have a product in hand to satisfy the demand of a strong contingent of Buffalo Braves fans (they exist in larger numbers than you can imagine).

So here's the deal; the book is priced at a publication price of $89 in a limited addition of 1500. We've pre-sold many copies at a lower introductory price that is available until January 1, 2009. To secure your copy at the lower rate, email us at and we can get you the details. We are also offering gift certificates with the introductory price to reserve copies of the book.

For additional book details go to:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

30 Years Later: Bills Mimic Braves

by Tim Wendel
Beginning of a new era or the beginning of the end? That’s where another Buffalo sports franchise finds itself as the Bills head north for a “home game” against the Miami Dolphins in Toronto this weekend.

Thirty years ago, the Buffalo Braves were in a remarkably similar situation. The team had played an increasing number of “home games” in Toronto. In essence, they planted the seeds for NBA to expand there in 1995 with the Raptors.

The parallels between the old Braves and the current Bills go well beyond traveling north in an effort to balance the books, though. The Braves proved that Toronto, despite being first and foremost a hockey town, could support an NBA franchise. The Bills are doing the same by playing there. This weekend’s contest is part of an agreement in which the Bills will play one regular-season game in Toronto each season over the next five years. Rather conveniently that situation dovetails into the Bills’ lease expiring in 2013.

As my friend Budd Bailey points out, the Bills have become the NFL’s top candidate to move to another city. The NFL franchise would be worth $250 million or more in someplace like Toronto or Los Angeles.

More importantly, though, Bills owner Ralph Wilson has no heir apparent to take over his team. That side of the equation became more blurred with the recent death of Toronto media mogul Ted Rogers, the guy who lured the Bills north of the border.

Back in the 1970s, Braves owner Paul Snyder was desperate for an heir apparent, too. So desperate that he eventually turned to ex-Kentucky Colonels owner John Y. Brown. At first, Brown was brought in to help balance the books. But he soon took over the club, trading away such stars as Bob McAdoo and Moses Malone, and eventually swapping the entire franchise for the Boston Celtics. In the aftermath, Western New York was left without a team and a whole bunch of rich guys got even richer.
Pinch me, please, because I see the same nightmare beginning to unfold again with the Bills.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Bigger Voice

by Chris Wendel

Last spring, we began working with "A Bigger Voice" an organization organized by Carol Ross of Louisville, Colorado. I credit my friend Dave Murphy with the introduction. As a fan 1970's NBA basketball, Dave recognized that the story of "Buffalo, Home of the Braves" had significance for people outside of Western New York and put us in touch with "A Bigger Voice".

Over the past few months the book project became a pilot project for the "A Bigger Voice" team, that helped us make huge strides in developing an online following and building our own web community. To learn more, take a look at our wrap up interview.

Book update: The "Farewell, Old Friend" tour of Buffalo last week was a resounding success in pre-selling copies of the book and making great connections with those who fondly remembered the Braves. Several mysteries were solved including the location of the Braves early training camp location (ECC-North) and exactly what happened when Dolph Schayes was dismissed as the Braves coach the second game into season two.

The combination of last week's event honoring Memorial Auditorium and the "A Bigger Voice" relationship spiked the hits on both of our blogs to unprecedented highs for the week ending November 22nd.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

One Last Time

by Chris Wendel

This is the weekend I want to call the "Rip VanWinkle Experience". The "Farewell, Old Friend" event at the Buffalo Convention Center was the final chance to celebrate Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium and realize again how quickly life and time can pass one by.

It seemed like more then a coincidence that the Aud was conceived the last time our country was going through a horrific economic struggle. The building was built as a WPA project driven by the Roosevelt Administration to to put people to work and stimulate a dead economy during the malaise of the Great Depression. This time around the circumstances were a bit different; a new arena has already been built and the now obsolete Memorial Auditorium is slated for the wrecking ball.

The events this weekend centered around the auctioning off of leftover Aud blue section seats and portions of the dasher boards, along with autograph sessions with former Buffalo Sabres, Braves, and Stallions. I never figured out where in a rec room or basement the dasher boards would fit in and I don't know if I would make it through a half of any game watching at home in the wooden chairs. Still it was intriguing to see the seats that were nicely refinished and purchased for up to $750 (for four).

We set up a table along side other card and memorabilia vendors. Although we had no product in hand to sell (yet), we passed out postcards with book information to hundreds of interested fans and many former Braves season ticket holders. Several former team employees stopped by and revealed antidotes of the Braves that I had never heard before.

Ernie DiGregorio, Randy Smith, and Dolph Schayes were also in the house today signing autographs. All three stopped by our table afterwards to look over the book chapter excerpts and like the other fans, they are anticipating the book release in February.

Hall of Famer Schayes spent a good ten minutes looking at pictures of his first year as the Braves coach, telling compelling stories and talking to fans in an incredibly polite and patient manner. Age the age of 80, it was amazing to see someone voted to the list of NBA's top 50 players work the crowd so well, even when many younger fans lacked the historical perspective to know exactly who he was.

As the live auction event in the other part of the hall wrapped up, former Sabre Danny Gare told the story of his first game in the Aud, when he scored 18 seconds into the contest. After hearing his short but moving speech of how he remembered the Aud, it was obvious that Gare is a true fan of the old building like the rest of us.

So now that the final celebration and acknowledgments are over, we all have our physical or mental pieces of Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium. May the old arena rest in peace.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Celebrating the End of the Aud

by Chris Wendel

I'm in Buffalo and contradicting some of my earlier thoughts on the demise of the Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium. As Richard Nixon used to say: "We received new information", which is a diplomatic way of saying that I changed my mind about embracing the old building one more time.

To meet more prospective buyers of the book and to see how the eminent demolition of the Aud will be celebrated, we are setting up an informational booth at the "Farewell, Old Friend" event at the Buffalo Convention Center.

So here's the latest deal on the book. With the extensive editing, recently uncovered photos and my recent marriage, the revised and realistic release date is now the end of January 2009. We made the decision in the beginning not to sacrifice on the quality of the book. In other words, it is better to take the time do it right than to produce a sub par product.

If you're heading to today's event in Buffalo, stop by and say hello. We have a special event promotion and plenty of chapter exerts to view.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Who do you Root for? Part 2

by Tim Wendel

Kevin Collins, a good friend of Buffalo, Home of the Braves, has come up with an intriguing answer to my question about what current NBA team to root for? Kevin reminds me that in light of the bizarre franchise swap of 1978, “the old Braves are the new Celtics and the old Celtics are the Clippers.”

So does that mean we can revel in winning last year’s title? Probably not. I don’t any parade preparing to head down Main Street. Still, I like the idea of the Braves living on as a championship club. Perhaps that’s what has always bothered me about the Braves’ institutional memory and storied history simply being passed off on the woebegone Clippers.

At their best the Braves had plenty of personality and top-flight talent. Already I can hear the mantra in my head – McAdoo, Ramsay, Ernie D., Randy, etc., etc., etc. As we all know, with a bit of luck and another wide body under the boards (where for art thou, Moses Malone?) the Braves could have been champions in their own right, in their own time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Farewell old friend, please...

by Chris Wendel

Yesterday was the final media tour of Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo before the four month demolition process begins. Pictures show how the last 12 years have taken their toll on the remaining seats, facade, and infrastructure.

Looking at the photos of the fraying gold seats that seemed in my childhood to be the holy grail of local sports, was quite disconcerting. I reached the conclusion that it's better to just tear the place down and have certain refined memories in my mind, than to see the Aud suffer, so long in the tooth.

Memorial Auditorium reached the point of no return when the modern age of sports required larger corporate boxes and an arena that insured that the Sabres sustain themselves long term. I get that part.

What was confusing was what to do with the Aud. For awhile there was talk of renovating the existing structure for the proposed Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store. Having recently visited one of the company's other monuments dedicated to fish and game, I have a hard time imagining a stuffed billy goat standing on a fake mountain in the place where McAdoo used to take that outside jumper or a rack of flannels shirts on sale where Coach Ramsay used to roam the sidelines.

After yesterday I've seen enough. Tear it down and let the memories of the grand old Aud live in photos, stories, books, and most importantly in our minds.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What team do you root for?

by Tim Wendel

So, another NBA season is upon us and I find myself in a familiar situation. What team do I root for? Tough question to answer since the Braves blew out of town three decades ago.

In recent years, it’s been easy to ignore this dilemma. You get caught up in the baseball playoffs and by the time the World Series is over, the NFL has gotten downright serious. But this time around, it’s more difficult to shrug off pro hoops. For one, the Olympics kept the NBA front and center over the summer. The U.S.-Spain showdown was a great championship game, perhaps one of the best ever played. Too bad we had to stay up until the crack of dawn to see it.

Of course, another difference-maker is “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” — the book my brother and I have been working on for several years now. The commemorative edition is in the final edits and even though this has dragged like Dean Smith’s four-corners offense, I’ve been reassured that we’ll have copies soon after the holidays. So, what team do I root for? If I play along with the sports regionalization playbook, it’s the Toronto Raptors. They promise to be better with Jermaine O’Neal on board. But when somebody says Toronto to me guys like Wendel Clark and Neil Young come to mind.

In recent seasons, I’ve taken a liking to the Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash is as good a point guard as it gets and he’s another Canadian to boot. Still, I cannot help thinking the door may be closing on the Suns. While I cheered for Los Angeles Lakers when Magic Johnson was running the show, I’ve never been a big Kobe Bryant fan. May be it has something to do with that court case in Colorado. Down in Miami, the Heat haven’t been much since Shaq’s game began to deteriorate and Dwayne Wade started spending more time calling Sir Charles than being on the court. New Orleans has a lot going for it, but the only way I’m see many of those games is to purchase NBA Season Pass.

The last time I parted the curtains and really looked out on the world, the recession was becoming a full-fledged depression. I could root for guys from my alma mater, Syracuse University. Gerry McNamara may make the Utah Jazz and Hakim Warrick will probably see more playing time in Memphis. Still, when you come right down to it, that’s a fantasy way of following the game. So, help me out. I need a bona fide team. A cast of characters I can follow in the box scores every morning.

Any suggestions Braves Nation?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Coming Home, Again

by Chris Wendel
We often hear how today's society doesn't encourage one on one conversations and interpersonal relationships. I write this knowing well that I'm communicating this message via the internet to a community of people that I don't live near and I seldom see in person. Such are the perils of marketing a book when both the editor and author live 500 miles away from the Western New York.

Last night was a chance to see the market for the book "Buffalo, Home of the Braves" up close and in person. The event was the Lockport Rotary Club's "Tip Off " Dinner, a fund raiser for the local YMCA featuring the head basketball coaches from Niagara, Canisius, and the University of Buffalo, along with the headline speaker John Beilein, who now coaches the University of Michigan. The lessons learned from a warm and receptive crowd were that Niagara County is a place where one can feel grounded and sports related memories are slow to wain.

There is an interesting symmetry returning to the roots of where the long journey begins. Beilein's storied career began when he coached middle school in nearby Newfane, New York more than 30 years ago. During his accomplished career he methodically moved up from coaching high school to community college to Division 2 to national prominence at West Virginia, and now Michigan. More impressive than his 554-322 college record is that during his remarkable coaching tenure he has never been an assistant coach.

Beilein was most interesting when he recalled his days growing up in rural Niagara County in the 1960's. He told the story of convincing his dad to buy his first pair of Chuck Taylor Converse high top shoes from Chuck Kenney at Niagara Sporting Goods and the opportunity to play "big time" 7th grade basketball at league at the Lockport YMCA. Beilein describing the experience of a rural farm kid entering the "mecca" of the Lockport Y was funny to hear. Yet many in the audience could relate to the vivid details of his first basketball experiences.

That attention to detail was also evident when Reggie Witherspoon the University of Buffalo coach spoke and described playing under Beilein in the 70's for Erie County Community College. While a younger Witherspoon tried to recount particular games, Beilein could instantly remember recall opponents and individuals.

OK, so you are probably wondering how the Braves fit into all of this. Thanks to the help of my Dad we were able to set up a small table at the event with postcards and posters with book pages of Chapter One of the book.

From a demographic perspective this was definitely the right group; mostly male, many over 40, with an intense interest in basketball. There was a core group that emerged that was on fire with the book concept. Just like Beilein they could recount particular games, players, and circumstances 30 years later. Some were season ticket holders and one actually work on press row for the Braves. We had plenty of feedback and no one questioned the introductory prepublication press of $79

I sought out Witherspoon who I understood has a strong connection to the Braves. Having also grown up in the area, he emphasized his strong sense of pride for the Braves team and their significant role in Buffalo sports history. It's no surprise that Witherspoon has been a proponent of recognizing Braves players like Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith with a banner or retired numbers that could some day be raised for all to see at HSBC Arena.

One cannot forget to mention John Murphy, the emcee for last night's event. John has a strong appreciation for our book project and is someone who has the unique ability to reduce the degrees of separation in a large room of people from six to about two. His graciousness, humor, and quick wit made last night's event all come together.

I left the event realizing that Niagara County still has a strong sense of community. Growing up I thought Western New York was a place that was too slow to change, so at the age of 18 I left and seldom looked back. Years later I embrace the area for retaining its character and for having people like Beilein and Witherspoon, and Murphy who accomplish great things without forgetting where they came from.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Making of the Book, Part 3

By Chris Wendel
January ’08: The narrative is written and we have some decent material to work with. Tim has interviewed key players, Dr. Jack Ramsay, and Paul Snyder all of which have no problem with going back and talking about the Braves. In fact we have the sense that the players and Ramsay are excited to talk about the Braves brief success in the mid 70’s.

Even with a great narrative and memorabilia, the book is lacking the visual detail it deserves. Several devout Buffalo fans I have competed with on eBay want to know if they could let me use items from their Braves collection. Another tells me the whereabouts of Robert L. Smith the former official photographer of the Bills and Braves.

After several emails and phone calls, I make the trek from Michigan to Orchard Park and sit down with Smith. We talk over morning coffee; we develop trust and a good comfort level. Two hours later we have an agreement to use photos I’ve yet to actually see.

I get to tour his basement which is the best photographic shrine to Buffalo sports I’ll ever see. There are a few Braves pictures and predictably the Bills are the focus (Smith was the Bills photographer from their 1960 inception to 2004). I’m enamored with the shots from the AFL title teams that included Jack Kemp, Butch Byrd, and Billy Shaw. The best parts are Bob’s background stories on each photo he shows me

My 2-3 hours with Smith leave me appreciating his tremendous talent and longevity. Bob (as I now feel I can call him) will take the next few days and see what he has to offer up from his Braves archives and send them to me in a few days to Michigan.

February ’08: I’m now home in Michigan. After negotiating an equitable fee, the wide selection of photos arrives. They are better than advertised and the process of putting out a high quality book is now assured. It’s a painstaking and time consuming process but we’ve now turned a major corner.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Old School Weekend Warrior

By Tim Wendel

Autumn means colorful foliage to some, the start of the football season to others. But what I wax nostalgic about during this time of year is what we used to call our “Buffalo Sports Weekends.”

From 1974 to 1978, I was an undergraduate at Syracuse University. The football team was about as good as it is now. In other words, lousy. But that didn’t stop us from religiously cheering on the Orange Saturday afternoons. This was before the Carrier Dome went up, so we hunkered down in Archbold Stadium, which bore a striking resemblance to the old Rockpile.

Several times each fall, we’d go right from the SU game and drive to Buffalo in time to catch the Braves at the Aud. Of course, it was early in a new NBA season and, at least in 1974-75-76, the sky seemed the limit for a squad with Bob McAdoo (pictured above), Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregorio on the floor and Jack Ramsay calling the shots.

I’ll admit that early on the Braves were a way to flesh out Buffalo Sports Weekends. Usually we’d go to the Bills game Sunday afternoon and finish things off with the Sabres, back at the Aud, Sunday nights. Then we’d race back down the Thruway in time for class Monday morning. I didn’t take the best of notes those days, but I was there. I made it to class.

But during those years, the Braves won me over. I loved watching them play and was crestfallen when they left town.

When I tell people about those days, hitting the Braves, Bills and Sabres in 24-plus hours, they think I’m crazy. “How’d you pull that off?” they ask. Indeed, it seems hard to believe now. But sometimes that’s how the best of times roll out. You don’t realize how special things were until decades later.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Let's go, Buffalo! Making of the Book Part 2,

by Chris Wendel

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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Making of the Book (Part 1 )

By Chris Wendel
Summer 2004: My brother Tim and I wax poetic about Phil Ranallo, the late, great columnist for the now defunct Buffalo Courier Express newspaper. Ranallo’s column “What’s New Harry” was a breakfast staple during our adolescent days growing up near Buffalo in Lockport, New York. I recall making the mad dash to the paper box on cold mornings, just to read the column while eating my morning cereal. Tim was fortunate to work with Phil at the Courier after college in the early 80’s. We wonder where the old columns are if they still exist at all.

November ’04: Tim informs me that old issues of the Courier exist in the archive section of a Buffalo library. I decide to take my first of what turns out to be many trips back to Buffalo to view old articles and microfilm of the Courier Express. I live in Michigan and use the trips to visit my parents in Lockport and look at the columns. Revisiting the Ranallo columns 25 years later is somewhat surreal. To my relief his writing stands up well over time and I still can’t stop reading them.

January ’05: I’m back in Buffalo collecting columns with the help of the library’s helpful staff. Looking at microfilm for a few hours causes serious eye strain but fortunately there are also plenty of old columns that someone literally cut out of the old paper and mounted on typing paper. After reading 50 or so columns and several conversations with Tim it is apparent that Phil has a soft spot in his heart for the Braves. We decide that the Braves have been placed on a shelf long enough and their story that needs to be retold.

April ’05: Another trip to Buffalo and more research. Tim is an accomplished writer and I enjoy the grunt work of finding pictures and assembling the Ranallo columns. The format is unclear until I talk with Mike Romstadt of Village Press here in Michigan. The debate between us will continue for months. Mike thinks that this has the makings of a high quality coffee table style book that should be printed in a limited quantity and sold for a premium price. I run this scenario past several people I know and trust. Two camps quickly develop; the first includes those who think that there likely is a market out there (that already pays hundreds for decent game tickets) for a high quality book about the Braves. The second consists of folks who know little or Buffalo or sports and think that I’m nuts.

What we’re lacking is pictures. Finding the photos is a story we will save for the next installment.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

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

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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Snyder predated Sports' Regional Trend

Braves owner Paul Snyder was many things to many people -- team founder, consummate businessman, a guy who had little patience with players or coaches, a major reason why the team eventually left town. But he was certainly a visionary when it came to the regionalization of sports.

Early in his tenure, he wanted his Braves empire to extend from Toronto around the west end of Lake Ontario to Syracuse. Today, many sports teams are regional phenomenon. The Atlanta Braves are the team of the Southeast. The Dallas Cowboys are America's team, with a devout audience in Texas and Oklahoma. And when it comes to pro sports in Buffalo, things have come full circle.

Efforts are under way for the Toronto Raptors to play an exhibition game or two in Buffalo. Of course, the Bills are already slated to play games in Toronto and many predict that the NFL team will head north of the border for good when owner Ralph Wilson dies.

It's too bad that the Braves couldn't have hung on a few more seasons, or at least protected their territorial rights better. It wasn't that long ago that Snyder contended that Toronto fell under the shadow of his Braves empire. Such posturing fell apart when the Braves left town after the 1978 season and Buffalo city fathers didn't contest the move in court.

The irony of ironies is that the guys who grew up to own the Raptors attended Braves games back in the mid-1970s at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Reportedly, that's where they first got the idea for an NBA team in Toronto.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

No love here for Boston's titletown spoils

by Tim Wendel

Put me down as another guy who’s had it up to here with Boston teams winning championship after championship. That’s saying something for a kid who grew up a Red Sox fan. That happened because when they assigned teams decades ago in the Gasport (N.Y.) Little League, my squad was the Red Sox. Gosh, we suffered as much as the big leaguers once did, going winless one season and never making the playoffs in those often interminable games hard by Route 31.

But such anguish, at least on the baseball front, was vanquished in recent years. Boston, of course, has become a beggars banquet of victory with the recent successes of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. Meanwhile, Buffalo remains at the horse latitudes in terms of championships won. Adrift at sea since the Bills last won in 1965. No, I don’t count trophies by the Buffalo Bandits.

Sports Illustrated called the recent Celtics-Lakers Final the series America had been waiting for. Don’t sign me up for that rodeo, though. Sure, I appreciated Larry Bird as much as the next guy, even though I cheered for Magic Johnson the last time those two teams went around the Finals block.

You see, I’m like many Braves fans. When I see that Celtic green, I flash back to Jo Jo White, Don Nelson, Tom Heinsohn and all those other guys who broke our hearts time after time in the mid-1970s. Enough is enough.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Russert best represented Buffalo

by Tim Wendel

Those of us who root for all things Buffalo lost one of our own with the passing of Tim Russert. I watched ESPN’s tribute to Russert and seeing him hold up Buffalo jersey after Buffalo jersey once again brought a smile to my face. Here was a guy who watched games at the old Rockpile as a kid, who knew the importance of cheering for the hometown teams – no matter what.

Even though Russert lived in Washington, D.C., where I’ve called home for almost 20 years, I didn’t really know him. But since XM Radio got off the ground, I’ve gotten to know his son, Luke. I’ve been a guest on “60/20,” the sports show Luke co-hosts with James Carville, and the son is a chip off the old block. An appreciation for all the Buffalo franchises has been handed down from father to son.

Since my brother, Chris, and I started this blog and word of BUFFALO, HOME OF THE BRAVES got out, we’ve heard from people from all over the country. The thing we all share is this affinity and appreciation for Buffalo sports – the Braves, the Sabres, the Bills.

Just before the Iowa caucuses last year, longtime political columnist Roger Simon was standing in the lobby of the Des Moines Marriott hotel, waiting for a cab that was never going to arrive. As time ticked down, Tim Russert came up, put a hand on Simon’s shoulder and said, “Hey, I’ve got a car. I’ll drive you.”

In a column Simon did for Politico this week, he explained that Russert “was not a creature of Washington. He was a kid from Buffalo, and it showed. People in Buffalo treat each other like neighbors, and that’s the way Tim treated people.”

Despite the economic hardship and tough times of recent decades, Buffalo fans still treat others like neighbors. We may have lost our proudest fan this week, but his passion and zest for life remain as an example for all of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Complaints about refs go way back

How much can a referee influence the course of events? Of course, that’s a big question being debated these days. Any Braves fan knows that how a game is called can have a lasting impact.

In Buffalo Home of the Braves, we detail the deciding Game 6 of the 1974 playoff series between the Braves and the Boston Celtics. With time running out, the score tied, Braves star Bob McAdoo was called for fouling Boston guard Jo Jo White.

To this day, McAdoo believes that it was a cheap call. So does former team owner Paul Snyder. So does Van Miller, the Braves’ play-by-play man. (In fact, hours after that game, Miller told Bill Mazur, his friend and fellow WNY announcing legend, as much.) But what Braves coach Jack Ramsay will always remember about the way officials Darrell Garretson, Mendy Rudolph and Manny Sokol conducted themselves that evening at the Aud was that they should have put a second or two back on the game clock. Of course, this was well before the days of checking the courtside monitor.

Even with one second left, the Braves could have taken the ball at mid-court and tried for a desperation play at the buzzer. “That’s what I wanted,” Ramsay told me years later.

“Just one chance. With the way, Mac was shooting the ball.”

The Celtics went on to win the NBA championship that season. The Braves would never really get close again.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Confusion still abounds with Celtics swap

by Tim Wendel, author of Buffalo Home of the Braves

Welcome back the 1980s, as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics return to the NBA Finals. But Braves fans know that the “wayback machine” can lead to the 1970s. As much as we rooted against the Celtics in those classic playoff matches at the old Aud, the final injustice for the Braves was seeing the team swapped with the Celtics after the team’s final season in 1978. One reincarnation headed west to become the San Diego Clippers, while the new Celtics, headed by former Braves owner John Y. Brown, stayed in Boston and went on to greatness, thanks in large part to landing the draft rights for Larry Bird.

As I watched the Celtics oust the Detroit Pistons last night, I remembered an interview I did with Randy Smith for Buffalo, Home of the Braves. Smith was the guy caught in the middle of the most confusing team swap in sports history. Here’s how he remembers that bizarre period:

“Once John Young Brown got his hands on the team, Buffalo was the last place he wanted to have it play. He and I used to talk a lot. He’d tell me about the possibility of the team going to Dallas, San Diego, Kentucky -- it was inevitable that the team was going to leave the Buffalo area. Then I woke up one morning to hear that he had made a swap of entire teams.

“I was home in Buffalo. Somebody called me from the Braves’ office to tell me the news. … I started to get checks from the Boston Celtics for deferred payments, even though I was going west to play for this new team, the Clippers. I didn’t know where to expect my checks to come from, but, you know, you don’t care as long as they don’t bounce.”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Were the Buffalo Braves the canary in the Western New York mine shaft?

by Tim Wendel, author of Buffalo, Home of the Braves

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.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

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

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:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Situation in Seattle reopens old wounds

Find out more about: Buffalo, Home of the Braves

Seattle is about to lose its basketball team the Super-Sonics to Oklahoma City of all places. Seattle fans fear the worst and even though the team still has two years remaining on their lease, the odds of the Sonics remaining in Seattle are low. Another owner makes a business decision, another franchise leaves town, fans feel betrayed, and there is likely nothing they can do about it.

The more things change the more they remain the same. The NBA owners voted this week 28-2 to allow the Sonics to move for the start of the 2008-09 season with NBA Commissioner David Stern very much in the fray. 30 years ago Stern negotiated the bizarre deal that swapped the Buffalo Braves franchise with the Boston Celtics and sent what remained to San Diego to become the Clippers.

As much as our nostalgic minds believe that sports weren't dictated by money back in the 70's; they were. The Braves swap/sale/exit from Western New York was all about an out of town owner who sought greener pastures and higher long term revenue.

The Sonics present a situation strangely similar to the Braves prior to their move. An owner from the south purchases the team (Clay Bennett) with the hidden desire to move the team elsewhere (in Bennett's case to his home state of Oklahoma). The out of town owner makes veiled threats and demands of the city to keep the team, when the plan was to move the team from the very beginning.

The unfortunate part for Buffalo is that the fans did fill seats when the product on the court was good and finally threw up their hands with frustration witnessing the revolving door of players that paraded in and out of town that final season.

Who could blame the Buffalo faithful for not investing in season tickets when the John Y. Brown circus was wheeling and dealing away the talents of Moses Malone, Adrian Dantley, Marvin Barnes, and John Shumate? Meanwhile the Buffalo Sabres were building a competitive team with players who would spend most of their careers in Buffalo with a stable local ownership.

The irony of all this is if the Sonics end up in Oklahoma City, a metropolitan region with a population base slightly ahead of Buffalo's. We feel Seattle's pain in an all too familiar way.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Most miserble, it's all relative, right?

Forbes Magazine of all publications today announced its list of the "Top Ten Most Miserable Sports Cities". I first heard of the rankings this morning while watching the Mike and Mike Show on ESPN2. I was waiting to see where Buffalo would land, knowing that a maligned reputation based on lost Super Bowls, rust belt economics, and snow would likely garner Buffalo a top position.

Buffalo was third behind Atlanta and Seattle with the rhetorical criteria centering around heartbreak, blown titles, and franchises that left town (i.e the Braves). After a fanfare buildup Mike and Mike's Mike Greenberg went through the rankings and simply stated, "That's not a very good list."

Instead of making apples and oranges comparison between cities and discrediting the sports reporting credentials of Forbes, it may be best to pinpoint why Buffalo and its sports community are an acquired (usually by birth) taste that outsiders don't generally understand. And oh yeah, for the record, the Buffalo Braves left town because of an inept ownership and not because of fan support.

30 days and two days ago the Braves played their last game in Buffalo. The Buffalo News barely took the time to honor the anniversary with a token article that was read like it was written by someone who wasn't even alive on April 8, 1978.

Yesterday Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith did make the final selections in the USA Today "All-time Braves/Clippers Starting Five". McAdoo outdistanced Elton Brand by 20 votes thanks to the last day effort from the Buffalo faithful.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Adrian gets his due

There was some justice in the Braves world today as Adrian Dantley was announced as an inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame after seven previous attempts. Dantley started his career in Buffalo as the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1976 and twice led the league in scoring.

Justice is simply not prevailing for two other Braves. Hall of famer Bob McAdoo clings to a slight lead over upstart Elton Brand in the ongoing USA Today all-time Braves/Clippers poll. The lack of voting for Randy Smith is borderline pathetic who remains fifth in the voting behind McAdoo, Brand, Ron Harper and Danny Manning. It's worth noting that Smith has almost as many career points with the franchise as Harper and Manning combined.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

USA Today, All-Time Clippers Team

The polls are now open to vote for the Los Angeles Clippers' all-time five. At first glance it seems a bit crazy but USA Today has the online poll going until April 10th.

Predictably Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith are the only Buffalo Braves included. Their Clipper competition for the starting five includes Ron Harper, Danny Manning, Elton Brand, World B. Free, Benoit Benjamin, Terry Cummings, Norm Nixon, and Loy Vaught.

At the time of this entry McAdoo is leading the field and rightfully so. Since the franchise moved out of western New York after its ten year run, the Braves abbreviated accomplishments surpass the Clippers' 30 years of mediocrity.

Smith (shown in a 1974 photo) is only fifth in the poll voting although he is the all-time franchise leader in six statistical categories. At this point he trails Clipper players Manning, Harper, and Brand.

I'm amazed how many tried and true NBA hoop fans still don't realize that Smith's record of 906 consecutive games, a streak which concluded on March 13, 1983 is second only to the all-time NBA "ironman" A.C. Green.

Maybe it's his generic sounding name or the era and town he played in but it's time to show the love and vote Randy to the top along side his friend and teammate McAdoo.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Humble Beginnings

Chapter One: 1970-71 Season

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On January 20, 1970, the National Basketball Association voted to expand by four teams. Along with Portland and Cleveland, an NBA franchise was awarded to a group of investors headed by Phillip Ryan and Peter Crotty for Buffalo.

The age of sports expansion had been well under way since the late 1960s. The National Hockey League, for example, had doubled the number of its franchises from six to 12 in one grand move. The NBA had expanded to Seattle and San Diego in 1967; and to Milwaukee and Phoenix a year later. While some contended that the talent pool wasn’t there to support so many new teams, the NBA was eager for new markets in large part because it was at war with the rival American Basketball Association.

The ABA had been around since 1967 and was developing a strong following in some parts of the country. The ABA, with its distinctive red, white and blue ball, emphasized slam dunks and high scoring. The rival league was driving up player salaries and many owners in the older NBA were becoming increasingly concerned about the bottom-line. New teams to the NBA paid escalating franchise fees. In the case of the new kids on the block – Portland, Cleveland and Buffalo – the entry fee was $3.7 million.

Days after the announcement was made, it became apparent that the Buffalo group didn’t have deep enough pockets to operate a team at the most expensive rung of professional basketball. In looking back on the team’s checkered past, it was the first sign of trouble for a ballclub that would soon rank one day among the best in the league and in the next breath be spirited away from town in the most bizarre bait-and-switch move ever seen in professional sports.

Location-wise, Buffalo appeared to be a solid enough choice for NBA expansion. Even though its metropolitan area population was 1.3 million, the lowest of the new expansion cities, Buffalo’s economy was built upon the rock-solid basics that once made the Great Lakes such a vibrant area – shipping, hydroelectric power and steel. In addition, the area had a rich basketball history at the college level. Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure formed the “Little Three,” and Calvin Murphy (Niagara) and “Buffalo” Bob Lanier (St. Bonaventure) had recently received All-American honors.

The New York Knicks’ Eddie Donovan, who had played and coached at St. Bonaventure, was hired as the team’s first general manager. Besides being a great judge of talent, Donovan was also known as the guy who coached the Knicks the night the 76ers’ Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in Hershey, Penn. That still ranks as top individual scoring night in NBA history.

The team’s nickname, Braves, came from a contest with 14,000 entries. Dave Lejewski of Dunkirk had the winning entry and was awarded season tickets. Neither Lejewski, nor anybody else in Buffalo for that matter, was exactly sure what kind of team would be taking the floor at Memorial Auditorium. In the NBA draft, the Braves had the ninth pick in the first round. Unlike Buffalo’s new hockey franchise, the Sabres, the Braves missed out on top talent their first season. (The Sabres were able to select scoring star Gilbert Perreault with the top pick and they never looked back in building their team.) The first four selections in the NBA draft proved to be bona fide stars. Lanier, the star from St. Bonaventure, went No. 1 to Detroit, followed by Rudy Tomjanovich (San Diego), Pete Maravich (Atlanta) and Dave Cowens (Boston). After that, the draft dropped off, so Donovan traded the franchise’s first draft choice to the Baltimore Bullets for guard Mike Davis. Davis had been on the NBA’s all-rookie team in 1969-70.

The Braves had another pick in the first round – No. 15. Local fans clamored for the new club to take a chance on Niagara’s Murphy. Murphy had proven to be one of the greatest scorers in college history. But he stood only 5-foot-9. For that matter, there was another dynamite guard still available when it became the Braves turn to choose – Nate “Tiny” Archibald from Texas-El Paso. Yet as the moniker indicates, Archibald wasn’t a towering giant, either.

In the end, Donovan played the percentages and selected 6-foot-9 forward John Hummer from Princeton. He was a solid rebounder and played good defense. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a great shooter, even from the free-throw line. It wasn’t until the third round that Donovan threw a bone to the locals by selecting Chip Case of Virginia. Case had played his high school basketball in suburban Lockport, N.Y.

Predictably, the rest of the squad was stocked with rejects from other teams. Besides Hummer, the Braves’ original starting five included Herm Gilliam, Don May, Dick Garrett and Nate Bowman. The best player on the squad that inaugural season proved to be Bob Kauffman, a former first-round pick with Philadelphia. With the new team lacking in height, Kauffman took over the center spot, even though his natural position was forward.

Dolph Schayes, a one-time Hall of Famer for the Syracuse Nationals, was the coach. His expertise was talking up the team to the local media, which was important because the Sabres were already off to head start with the public.

But before the first season got underway, the team needed to add one more individual. When the Braves’ original investment group began to fall apart, the NBA approached Paul Snyder about taking over the franchise. Snyder had made his money in the food industry. Despite his small stature, his firm handshake and riveting gaze soon gained anyone’s attention. In the spring of 1970, Snyder sold Freezer Queen, a frozen-food company, for a generous profit to Nabisco. The time seemed right to try something different, like owning a professional basketball team.

When the NBA called, the Braves had almost completed preseason play. While the team was the usual collection of cast-offs and misfits, it was easy to daydream about greater glory. Next season the team would likely have a top draft choice. Kauffman was somebody to build around. The team was Snyder’s for the asking, but he would have to act quickly. A new season, the Braves’ inaugural one, was about to begin.

To order "Buffalo Home of the Braves" visit

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jigsaw Puzzle

Here it is, late February and we're still putting this jigsaw puzzle together. The release date date has now offically changed from March to May. The most difficult part has been gathering photos from the franchise's early days and the final two seasons. Any help in this area would be appreciated. Robert L. Smith the Braves official photographer has been helpful and other photos have already come from interested fans. Stay tuned.

The book wil be published in a limited large hardcover version in a quanity of 1500. The pre-publication price is $99. After April, 1 2008 the price will be $125.

To order visit