The Buffalo Braves were one of three NBA expansion franchises (along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers) that began play in the 1970–71 season.
Originally owned by a wobbly investment firm with few ties to Buffalo, the Braves eventually found a local backer in Freezer Queen founder Paul Snyder – who, by the end of the first season, had inherited a team that was neither good (penultimate league records of 22-60 in each of its first two seasons), nor easy to schedule (third-choice dates for Buffalo’s venerable Memorial Auditorium behind the also-new NHL hockey Buffalo Sabres, and Canisius Golden Griffins college basketball).
Snyder addressed the Braves’ on-court issues by luring head coach Dr. Jack Ramsey from the Philadelphia 76ers, while drafting key players like high-scoring (and later Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Famer) Bob McAdoo, eventual NBA Rookie of the Year Ernie DiGregorio, and local (via Buffalo State) crowd favorite Randy Smith – yielding three consecutive playoff appearances from 1973-74 to 1975-76.
Off the court, Snyder looked to regionalize the team’s appeal beyond “The Aud” by scheduling select home games in places like Rochester, Syracuse and even Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens – and team attendance, TV ratings and revenues achieved league-average levels.
By the summer of 1976, however, Snyder was facing severe pressure to sell the team and get it out of “The City of Good Neighbors.” Of particular consternation was Canisius president Fr. James Demske, who publicly thwarted the Braves’ attempts at decent home dates – which angered the NBA enough to force the issue with Snyder.
Snyder, who said he was losing money anyway, threatened to move the Braves to suburban Miami’s Hollywood Sportatorium, a deal that collapsed after the city of Buffalo sued and secured a new 15-year Aud lease – with a provision it could be broken if the team didn’t sell 5,000 season tickets in any future season.
Author and Western New York native Tim Wendel (Buffalo, Home of the Braves) joins the pod to discuss the convoluted story of what happened next, including:
Snyder’s ownership sales to former ABA owner (and eventual Kentucky governor) John Y. Brown and businessman Harry Mangurian;
The subsequent dismantling of the team and overt attempts to drive down attendance to break the Aud lease;
The two-season coaching and player carousel that followed – including the curious six-minute career of Moses Malone; AND
How the Braves’ eventual move in 1978 to become the San Diego Clippers wouldn’t have happened without the Boston Celtics.