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: