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Relocated NBA Teams: The Buffalo Braves

The Buffao Braves were a basketball team that played in the NBA from 1970 to 1978. The Braves franchise is the same one that is today known as the Los Angeles Clippers. The Braves’ home games were played at the Buffalo memorial Auditorium, which they also shared with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabers. During the 1973/74 season, they also played several of their home games at the Maple Leafs Gardens in Toronto hoping to expand their Canadian fan base. The Buffalo Braves were formed in 1969 as one of three NBA expansion franchises. The name Braves was picked in reference to the Native American Heritage of the Buffalo area.

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The Braves were not very impressive on court and made the playoffs fewer times than they failed. Their first playoff appearance came four years into their competitive life, following the arrival of Coach Jack Ramsay. Ramsay brought the best out of rookie center Bob McAdoo and his efforts were rewarded as the star led the league in scoring with 30.6 ppg in 1973/74. The Braves finished in third with a 42-40 record. In the playoffs the Buffalo Braves were crushed by the mighty Celtics who went on to lift the NBA Championship. Another fine performance from McAdoo in 1974/75 saw him top the scoring charts yet again with 34.5 ppg. The Braves finished in second with a 49-33 record but would again lose the first round playoff series this time in seven games to the Washington Bullets. Yet again, McAdoo with 31.1 ppg would lead the league in scoring to inspire the Braves to a 46-36 record and a third playoff appearance in a row. They were again eliminated by the Celtics in six games, crushing their hopes of further progression. Jack Ramsay departed at the end of the season and following ownership changes, McAdoo and a host of other star players would follow shortly into the next season. With the main cast gone, the Braves regressed into mediocrity. Despite the addition of Adrian Dantley who would go on to become the third Buffalo player after McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio to win Rookie of the Year, the Braves were unable to make another playoff appearance. Aside from Ramsay no other Braves coach managed to last two full seasons on the job.

Why were the Buffalo Braves Relocated?

Team owner Bob Snyder had expressed early in the Braves stay in Buffalo his displeasure at the competition for the Aud with the Sabres and local college teams. In 1976, he tried selling the team to Irving Cowan who intended to move the team to Florida but the city of Buffalo blocked the deal in court. Eventually, John Y. Brown, a former owner of the defunct ABA’s Kentucky Colonels and current owner of the Boston Celtics purchased the Buffalo Braves in what was the beginning of a series of events that would epitomize shrewd business dealing at its very best. As part of the purchase agreement, any player sales made would go to Snyder and this would see the team’s purchase price reduce. Brown exploited that clause to the fullest selling half the team to Harry Mangurian Jr. and then selling the teams star players to pay off the other half. In this way, Brown effectively paid nothing out of his own pocket to buy the team. The team deteriorated in play and attendance waned significantly. However Brown was not unfazed and he puled off another business masterstroke that saw him avoid losses. Brown, with the help of then NBA lawyer David Stein negotiated a deal that would see him and Celtics owner swap franchises. At the time, the Celtics were the best team in the league but Levin, a California native dreamed of moving the team closer to home. The NBA however would not allow the Celtics to relocate. Levin agreed to take over the Braves and relocate them to San Diego while Brown would take over the Boston Celtics. While purchasing the Braves, Brown had snuck in an escape clause that allowed the team to break their 15 year lease contract for the Memorial Auditorium should average attendance fall below 4500. That inevitably happened making it easier for Levin to escape the city with the Braves. Levin moved the Braves to San Diego following the 1977/78 season and renamed them the San Diego Clippers. Buffalo is yet to see a return of NBA action and the odds of that happening are slim to none.

Buffalo Braves Notable Players

Bob McAdoo C 1972/73-1976/77

Randy Smith 1971-1978

Ernie DiGregorio PG 1973-1977

John Shumate C/PF 1975-1978

Gar Heard PF 1973-1976

Bob Kauffman C/PF 1970-1974

John Hummer PF 1970-1973

Ken Charles PG 1973-1976

Jim McMillian SF 1973-1976

Dick Garrett PG/SG 1970-1973

Adrian Dantley SF/SG 1976/77

Between 1970 and 1978, the NBA franchise today known as the Los Angeles Clippers was a Buffalo team and was then known as the Buffalo Braves. The team was based at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium which was also the home of the Buffalo Sabers of the NHL. The Braves were formed in 1969 as an expansion franchise alongside the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Portland Trail Blazers. With the NBA trying hard to usurp rival league ABA, the 1969 expansion was hasty at best, leaving the three new teams with little time to get organized. When the franchise was awarded to the city of Buffalo, there wasn’t an assigned owner of the team. The franchise was eventually awarded to a group led by Philip Ryan and Peter Crotty but after they ran into problems, it was handed to Paul Snyder, a local businessman. Plans for a new domed stadium in the city were still far away and that was initially another sticking point for the Braves. Paul Snyder went about setting up a team with less than two months left in the draft. The name ‘Braves’ was picked despite “Frontiersmen’ being the most popular choice in the fans contest. The moniker was a tribute to the Native Americans who had been the original inhabitants of the Buffalo area. Dolph Schayes was hired as the team’s first coach while Eddie Donovan would be their first general manger. In the NBA draft that fall, the Braves had a chance to sign two future hall of famers, Nate Archibald and Calvin Murphy but they passed on them and ended up with a roster made up of rejects.

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The Braves were not a particularly impressive team and were constantly missing out on the playoffs. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons, they made a massive improvement in 1973/74 as they recorded a 42-40 record for third place in their division. They were lined up against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs to whom they lost in six games. They returned to the playoffs the following season despite the departure of three of their main players. They squared off against the Washington Bullets and the two teams pushed each other all the way to game 7 which was eventually won by the Bullets, to knock the Braves out. Center Bob McAdoo would lead the league in scoring for third year running with 31.1 ppg as the Braves made the 1976 playoffs with a 46-36 record. They edged the Philadelphia 76ers in three games in the first round to set up a meeting with the Celtics who were in the middle of a hot streak. They lost to the Celtics in six games in the second round. The Braves would never again taste playoff basketball as they had two losing seasons before they were relocated to Los Angeles.

Why the Buffalo Braves were Relocated

The competition for the Aud with the Buffalo Sabers and local school teams did not sit well with team owner Bob Snyder, who argued that it was hard to maximize revenue, a situation complicated by disillusion among fans of the declining franchise. In 1977, Snyder sold the team to John Y. Brown under a deal that would see Brown hand the money from any player sales to Snyder in order to reduce the purchase price. In a bid to knock down the price further, Brown sold a percentage of the team to Harry Mangurian, a Rochester based businessman. The deal was bad for the team as player sales began immediately with Moses Malone being among those affected. However for Brown it was a sweet deal that saw him pay virtually nothing for the team as he financed the purchase almost entirely with player sales. Brown then brokered another shrewd deal that would see him acquire the formidable Boston Celtics, a team he owns to this day. Irv Levin, then owner of the Celtics wanted a team close to his hometown of San Diego, but the league would not allow him to move the Celtics. Brown met with Levin and negotiated a deal that would see the owners switch franchises, allowing Levin to move the Braves to the West Coast. The Braves were relocated to San Diego upon approval of the deal by the league and they were renamed the San Diego Clippers.

Buffalo Braves Notable Players

Bob McAdoo C 1972 -1977
Tiny Archibald G 1977/78
Bob Kauffman PF/C 1970-1974
John Hummer PF 1970-1973
Jim McMillian SF 1973-1976
Dick Garrett G 1970-1973
Ken Charles PG 1973-1976
Gar Heard PF 1973-1976
Ernie DiGregorio PG 1973-1977
Randy Smith G/SF 1971-1978

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