A book recalling the NBA’s Buffalo Braves

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A column by Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock

One of the hooks, when I agreed to join the Olean Times Herald in 1973, besides the Bills’ beat and being the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball columnist, was covering the Buffalo Braves.

No Sabres?

Well, their games were sold out making them a tough ticket for fans in the Southern Tier. The Braves, at that point, were struggling and their general manager was one Eddie Donovan, the iconic former Bona coach, who made his NBA reputation with the New York Knicks helping a rebuild. But, due to his many friends and family in the Olean area, when Buffalo was awarded an expansion franchise in 1970 along with Cleveland and Portland, taking the GM job was a chance for him to return “home.”

A media favorite, Donovan was close friends with OTH sports writers Mike Abdo and Bob Davies so when he took the position with the Braves, covering the home games was a no-brainer.

Thus, halfway through the 1973-74 season, covering the team was my job for the final 5½ years of their existence.

IT’S FUNNY, this is my 51st season covering the Bills, most of them home-and-away, and friends constantly badger me about writing a book. My negative esponse is always the same, “because 1,413 others have already done that.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but not much.

However, a recent call from my old pal Budd Bailey piqued my interest.

He and partner, Greg Tranter, who had just put out a book in July, “Buffalo Bills: An Illustrated Timeline of a Storied Team,” wanted me to know they had collaborated on a new release, “Buffalo Braves From A to Z.”

If there are other books on that team, I haven’t seen them.

The irony is, there are decades of people who have no idea the once-Braves are now the Los Angeles Clippers. After all, they left Buffalo following the 1978 season … heading for San Diego 45 years ago.

I’ve known Budd through several career iterations, starting when he was a sports reporter and talk show host at WEBR, through a stint as Information Director with the Sabres, then a couple of decades in the Buffalo News sports department. I long ago forgave him for being a Syracuse alum.

WHAT HE and Tranter have done is put together a fun book.

It’s not chronological, but rather segmented into seasons, with chapters on Stars and Starters, Supporting Cast, the Front Office, plus statistics (seasonal and career) with all-time draft choices and transactions.

The 71 player profiles are particularly interesting as they’re accompanied by memories from Milt Northrup who covered the team for the Buffalo News from its inception to breaking the story that the team was bound for San Diego.

Being a journalist at heart, I wondered how many of the players had passed on and,

using Google, discovered that 21 former Braves have died.

Here’s the list, alphabetically by last name: Abdul-Rahman, Mahdi (nee Walt Hazzard), Bird Averitt, Marvin Barnes, Nate Bowman, Fred Foster, Herm Gilliam, Bob Kauffman, Butch Komives, Mike Macaluso, Moses Malone, Jim McDaniels, Jim McMillian, Larry McNeill, Johnny Neumann, Paul Ruffner, Dale Schleuter, Mike Silliman, Don Smith, Randy Smith, George Wilson and Lee Winfield.

That list surprised me, until realizing even rookies that final season would now be in their later 60s.

My recollection is covering them when they were among the best-conditioned athletes in pro sports. They were a fun team to cover, loaded with personalities and via near-unlimited access getting a good story was easy. 

These days that beat would have no appeal, going through layers of communications personnel and trying to stay ahead of players’ Twitter — excuse me “X” — accounts. In fact, I no longer watch the NBA other than an occasional playoff telecast.

It was my privilege to cover the league when I did.

To be sure, the “Buffalo Braves From A to Z” is a niche book. But since it’s November with Christmas in the offing, if somebody on your list dates their love of pro basketball back to the ’70s, this is an ideal gift.

It’s available on Amazon and, come to think of it, so is Bailey and Tranter’s Bills’ book.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

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