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Would Buffalo Welcome the Braves Back? Apparently, L.A. Wouldn't Miss Them!

John HowellAnalyst IJuly 2, 2009

LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 25:  Zach Randolph #50 and Fred Jones #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers celebrate in the final seconds of the game with the Boston Celtics on February 25, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Clippers won 93-91.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The NBA franchise that is now known as the L.A. Clippers is a catastrophe. That may be considered a consensus viewpoint, but don't take it from me, take it from one of the Clipper correspondents, Roger Pimentel.

In Pimental's article, he cites location as the root cause of the franchise's troubles. He suggests the Clippers play in Anaheim in order to build up a more geographic fan base, rather than sharing a home with the Lakers.

I'm suggesting that Pimental is half-right. The problem is location. The solution is to return to the franchise's original home and nickname.

Has it not occurred to anyone that the reason the Clippers have languished in two California cities and now three arenas is that they have been cursed for leaving Buffalo as they did in the first place? The only cure for the curse is to return to Buffalo.

Buffalo is a unique market. It is a city rich with tradition, history, roots, and geographical loyalty. It is not a mobile city. The vast majority of residents are natives or have some family ties to the area at the very least.

People who move to Buffalo seldom move out. That applies even to people in typically mobile careers such as media personalities. Most of the local TV news anchors have been in Buffalo for most of their careers. They arrive as up-and-coming thirty-somethings and end up retiring from the same job, as icons, thirty years later.

Those who leave town for economic necessity or youthful wanderlust or some combination of the two still feel extremely bonded to the city, as evidenced by the number of ex-pat groups in all parts of the United States and many far-flung locations around the world. Moreover, many people return to Buffalo after a fling with some other community or some seemingly more glamourous port.

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And think about the term ex-pat. It normally applies to nations, not cities or regions. Yet, ex-Buffalonians call themselves ex-pats, as do their old friends and neighbors back home.

As I've said in another article at B/R, being from Buffalo is like being Jewish. It is one of the few places in this country in which it is difficult if not impossible to separate one's identity from one's place of origin, meaning that one's self-esteem and spirituality is largely derived from the shared experience of residing in a particular geographic location.

It's not the kind of place that any person, family, company, or sports team can just pack up and leave without consequence.

One of those aforementioned permanent media personalities, sports anchor Rick Azar (WKBW, Channel 7, ABC) has said that "You can leave Buffalo, but Buffalo never leaves you."  

That explains why the Clippers cannot win and can't find love in San Diego, L.A., Anaheim, or anywhere else.

Because you can leave Buffalo but Buffalo never leaves you, the franchise left everything that was special and powerful about itself in old Memorial Auditorium. The "Aud" is the only real home this team has ever had. Until the last brick of this once "rocking" arena falls, later this month, as demolition is completed, the franchise will be more at home in that place than they could ever be anywhere else.  

They left memories of Randy Smith's backward dunks. They left memories of Bob McAdoo's offensive overachievements. They left memories of Jim McMillain (ironically a former L.A. Laker) tapping in the winning score at the buzzer in a playoff game against Boston in what most Braves enthusiasts would cite as the best game ever played by the franchise in any location.

More importantly, they left the "stub" of the team's connection to its hometown. This stub has functioned as a "phantom limb" for die-hard Braves fans who still haven't recovered from the team's abduction.

In fact, though it has been thirty years, I would venture there is a greater, deeper base of fan support in Buffalo than L.A..

As my colleague, Mr. Pimentel states in the above-referenced article, "To be fair, the Clippers are perhaps the most futile professional sports franchise in history. Since moving to L.A. in 1984, they've had 22 losing seasons, to only three winning—and an impressive seven seasons below .250....It adds up to only four playoff appearances in that span, which is about as long as I've been alive...."

In contrast, and omitted by Mr. Pimentel, is the fact that, in only eight seasons in Buffalo, the Braves made three playoff appearances, advanced in one, and came within a questionable foul call involving Jo-Jo White of the Celtics from advancing a second time.

Now, when you consider the Braves was an expansion team and during their first three seasons they won 22, 22, and 21 wins, respectively, before the team finally began to have the right talent and coaching in place, those three years are even more impressive. But wait, there's more.

When you consider that the final year the team was in Buffalo, it's new owner John Y. Brown, who'd just lost the Kentucky Colonels due to the folding of the ABA, was scheming to decimate the roster and insult the city until he would be allowed to take the franchise elsewhere without a fight (and succeeded mightily in so doing) it is even more impressive.

Bob McAdoo and Jim McMillain were sold (yes sold, not traded) to the Knicks. All the other talent was disposed of, one way or another, and only Smith remained of the team that had challenged for a conference title just two years earlier. So, you can't count year eight. And you can't count the first three years. Therefore, the Braves made three playoff appearances in four years that count.

During those four years, the Braves were among the top four or five franchises in the league in average attendance, despite the fact that the Buffalo Sabres (NHL) and Canisius College basketball had the best game dates blocked out (Saturdays, Sundays), leaving the Braves to play mostly on Tuesday and Friday in competition with high school basketball in the area.

In addition to team success, there was individual achievement. The Braves had three rookies of the year (McAdoo, Ernie DiGregorio, and Adrian Dantley), one NBA All-Star MVP (Smith), three scoring leaders (McAdoo, three times), and one iron-man (Smith, who, between Buffalo, SD, and L.A., played 906 consecutive games until waived by the Clippers.)

So, when you look at the Clippers miserable stats in the post-Buffalo years compared to the tremendous success and love the franchise enjoyed in Buffalo, which is still nurtured among those old enough to remember, the answer to the question of franchise location should be a reverse, backward slam dunk (a la Randy Smith).

The Aud is almost gone, but the ghosts of the Braves who still haunt it, would find their new home at HSBC Arena and would fit in quite well.

If the Clippers returned to Buffalo and became the Braves again, they would find that elusive love and that elusive winning spirit.

Anyone from L.A. or Buffalo beg to differ?  

Note: for an extensive set of links to recent videos, articles, & audio clips about Randy Smith and the Buffalo Braves, see Chris and Tim Wendel's blog, Buffalo Nation http://buffalonation.wordpress.com/