EPISODE #106: Seattle’s “Sonicsgate” – With Filmmakers Jason Reid & Adam Brown

Documentary filmmakers Jason Reid and Adam Brown (Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team) join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the long, tortuous and acrimoniously messy departure of the NBA’s iconic Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008 – a story newly relevant as the “Emerald City” prepares to welcome a new NHL expansion franchise, and as former owner (and Starbucks CEO Emeritus) Howard Schultz publicly explores a run for the US Presidency.

A real-life drama replete with local political intrigue, wily (and/or naïve) business dealings, and an array of villains straight out of Hollywood central casting – the Sonics-to-Thunder saga has quickly become a chilling metaphor for the triumph of business revenue streams and facilities real estate over the spectacle of athletic competition or the rooting interests of fans.

Reid and Brown walk Hanlon through: the landing (in 1967) and honeymoon first years of Seattle’s first-ever pro sports franchise; the region’s loving embrace of their own pro hoops team (especially during its 1979 league championship season); the Achilles’ heel of Key Arena and a city government wary of public stadium subsidies; a litany of lawsuits; and a raft of agenda-driven actors like the in-over-his-skis Schultz, a devious Oklahoma City lead investor Clay Bennett, and a complicit NBA Commissioner David Stern – all of whom share blame for the Sonics’ ignominious relocation in the minds and hearts of Seattle sports fans.

Plus: we speculate whether the 2021 arrival of the NHL to Seattle portends a return of NBA basketball – perhaps in the form of a newly constituted SuperSonics – in the years ahead!

Thanks to this week’s sponsors: Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, and 503 Sports!

Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team via Amazon Prime - access here

EPISODE #101: New York Yankees Broadcaster John Sterling

Legendary New York Yankees baseball play-by-play man John Sterling joins host Tim Hanlon for a cavalcade of career memories from his 50+ year journey in sports broadcasting – including a treasure trove of stops along the way with previously incarnated or otherwise defunct teams (and leagues).

Now celebrating his 30th consecutive season with the Bronx Bombers, Sterling’s unique vocal stylings have become synonymous with some of the Yankees’ most signature moments during that time – including the team’s dominant run of American League and World Series championships across the late 1990s and much of the 2000s. 

The path to becoming one of baseball’s marquee team broadcasters was far from direct, however, and we (naturally) obsess over some of Sterling’s more memorable “forgotten” gigs along the way, including:

  • Falling into radio play-by-play with the NBA Baltimore Bullets as a late fill-in for Jim Karvellas;

  • Becoming the almost-voice of the ABA Washington Caps (until a hasty move to Virginia to become the Squires);

  • Hustling to secure radio rights to the upstart WHA New York Raiders for Gotham’s talk powerhouse WMCA - and the irony of later calling games for the NHL Islanders;

  • The highs of the ABA New York, and lows of the NBA New Jersey Nets;

  • “Phoning it in” for the World Football League’s short-lived New York Stars; AND

  • The ahead-of-its-time Enterprise Sports Radio Network.

Check out all the great “forgotten sports” garb and gear from our awesome sponsors: SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, and 503 Sports!

Classic John Sterling audio clips courtesy of Eric Paddon; follow him on YouTube here

EPISODE #89: The NBA Buffalo Braves – With Tim Wendel

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.

Thanks to 503 Sports, Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s show!

Buffalo, Home of the Braves - buy here

 
 

1974-75 Buffalo Braves Collectors Card Set SportsHistoryCollectibles.com - click photo or buy here

EPISODE #45: The ABA’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth – Part Two

Veteran sportswriter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) returns to the podcast (Episode #41) to help complete the story of the Indiana Pacers’ nine-year sojourn through the American Basketball Association – including its shaky transition into a merger-expanded NBA in 1976.  

Arguably the most stable and successful franchise in the ABA’s short but colorful history, the franchise nearly collapsed under its own weight after its inaugural National Basketball Association campaign – if not for a hastily arranged 1977 Independence Day weekend telethon fundraiser devised by head coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and his wife Nancy, that miraculously saved the team and cemented its place in the Indianapolis cultural landscape.

Along the way, however, the ABA Pacers made indelible marks on both the city and the basketball establishment, including: barn-burning rivalries (especially with the Kentucky Colonels and Utah Stars); stellar local collegiate talent signings (including Purdue All-American and Sports Illustrated high school cover boy Rick Mount, and Indiana University standout and eventual Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer George McGinnis); a downtown-revitalizing, franchise-stabilizing, state-of-the-art Market Square Arena; and the acrobatic, yet distinctively ‘fro’ed Darnell “Dr. Dunk” Hillman, who just may have been able to leap high enough to nab quarters off the top of backboards, according to sportswriter legend.

Plus: Pacers general manager Mike Storen answers his own letter; Bob Netolicky secures a trade, then begs to come back; the WHA hockey Racers nearly sink the franchise; and why Indianapolis' Pacers made the NBA cut - but Louisville's Colonels did not.

Thank you Podfly, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com and Audible for supporting the show!

Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis - buy book here

EPISODE #41: ABA Basketball’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth

Long-time Indianapolis pro hoops beat reporter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) joins host Tim Hanlon to delve into the intriguing story behind the efforts of late-1960s civic leaders to re-establish a top-tier professional franchise in the capital city of basketball-mad Indiana after a curious 14-year absence.   

One of eleven charter franchises in 1967’s upstart American Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers literally and figuratively “set the pace” early and often during the league’s nine-year existence – amassing three ABA championships, five finals appearances, and a dazzling array of All-Star talent including the likes of Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Billy Knight, and future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, and head coach Bob “Slick” Leonard.

In a league synonymous with wild games, outsized personalities and vagabond franchises, the Pacers were a uniquely steady constant on the court, in the stands and with the local Indianapolis community – which later rewarded them with a downtown-transforming arena of their own in 1974, and ultimately, helped bolster their case to become one of only four ABA clubs to be included in the post-merger National Basketball Association in 1976.

Our thanks to SportsHistoryCollectibles.com , Audible and Podfly for their sponsorship of this week’s episode!

Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis - buy book here