(Note: I researched some of this story at http://buffalobraves.blogspot.com/)
The set-up: By the end of the 1976 season, the Buffalo Braves seemed to be the bride’s maid of the Eastern Conference. For the previous three seasons, the men in powder blue uniforms, had won 137 games, which was fourth best in the NBA. The franchise was in the top 5 in NBA attendance. Wait. What? The NBA was actually popular in Buffalo? Indeed it was. Break out your whammy weeny. The Braves had Bob McAdoo, who was just entering his fourth season in the NBA and had averaged 31 points a game. Yes, 31 points a game! He was making the cover of Sports Illustrated and became one of the first true big men, who could beat you by shooting on the outside, instead of just post up moves. McAdoo earned Rookie of the Year honors, three consecutive scoring championships, and an MVP Award, all in his first four years.
I mean, can you name me a player in Buffalo Sports history who has had a better first four years as a pro? Here’s what SI said about McAdoo, “He’s quickest tall man, finest shooter and most astounding outside scoring machine ever to play basketball.” Wow. OK, I know this is suppose to be about Jack Ramsay leaving, but I can’t believe we had this guy?! Complimenting McAdoo was the late, great Randy Smith. Smith, was an all-star in 1976 and averaged 21.8 points a game. What made Randy’s game so special, was that he was listed at 6’3 and played forward, but he was able to play above the rim. During the 70’s, The NBA was making the transition into being players like Julius Erving, with their fast break dunks and above the rim game. Smith was one of the first players to lead that brigade. Of course, there was a man behind the 1-2 punch of the Braves, and that was Dr. Jack Ramsay. Ramsay, who finished with the 7th best winning percentage in NBA history, came from the Sixers, where he guided them to a NBA Championship as GM and to three playoff appearances as coach.
Here’s John Boutet’s take about Ramsay’s impact:
“The Braves would win more games from 1974, 75 and 76 than every NBA team except for Boston, Washington and Golden State. When Jack arrived, the team was the worst team in the NBA. He took them from worst to near first in that time. It wasn’t by shear luck Ramsay would win the NBA Championship in his first year in Portland. The guy was a great coach plain and simple.”
What happened: The Braves were coming off their first playoff victory in franchise history, when they beat the Sixers in a best of three games series. However, the team was ousted for the 2nd time in three seasons by the powerhouse Celtics. However, the celebration for winning their first playoff series was short lived. The biggest problem that the Braves seemed to face, was their meddlesome owner. Paul Snyder was the type of owner who would try to impose his will on who Ramsay should start. Here’s how Budd Bailey described it on his buffalobraves website.
“Snyder was involved in a major blow-up with Ramsey. The owner told Ramsey to start DiGregorio, as Snyder thought Ernie D would sell tickets to Buffalo’s Italian-American population. The coach, who had absolutely no respect for Snyder’s basketball knowledge, told him no. The two sides also argued over a contract extension. It all made a divorce seem close to inevitable. Indeed, Ramsey negotiated with a representative of the Portland Trail Blazers during the Celtics’ playoff series. For essentially the next two years, actual on-the-court basketball in Buffalo took a back seat to off-the-court shenanigans.”
Once Ramsay was gone, the franchise went downhill. Snyder ended up hiring Tates Locke, whose coaching stint at Clemson, actually inspired the movie “Blue Chips,” staring Nick Nolte and Shaq. Um, yeah, great hiring!! Here’s Boutet’s take on Locke:
“When Jack arrived the team was the worst team in the NBA. He took them from worst to near first in that time. And the downfall would be just as quick when he left. Tates Locke was at best an NBA assistant coach, that’s it. Solid college coach. A yes, man who would do what Snyder told him to do. Snyder was a control freak. He was jealous of Ramsay, and Ramsay was not a yes, man. He played who he wanted to play and Snyder forgot he was an owner and not a coach. Sidenote, did you know that Willis Reed was in the running for the job, but Snyder chose Locke because he knew he could control him.“
This Tates guy even benched Randy Smith and Bob McAdoo during his first year. The 77′ season was a disaster, as the Braves ended up trading McAdoo, which pretty much crippled the franchise. This transaction made Drury/Briere leaving Buffalo look like Max bolting for Atlanta. Things got worse the following season, when the Braves traded Adrian Dantley to Indiana for Billy Knight. It was a train wreck that started once Ramsay was fired.
As for Dr. Jack, the following season, he guided the Portland Trailblazers and Bill Walton to a NBA championship. If you ever heard Walton talk about Ramsay, the hippy is consumed with just total love for his former coach. As for the original Nick Nolte, he was fired after just 46 games.
What if Jack Ramsay wasn’t fired? Here is a list of the trades that went down after Dr. Jack was fired:
- Dec. 9- McAdoo and McMillen were sent to the New York Knicks for John Gianelli, a borderline NBA starting center, and $3 million.
- Sept. 1 – Adrian Dantley and Mike Bantom (signed that day as a free agent) to Indiana for Billy Knight.
- Sept. 1 – George Johnson and a first-round draft choice to New Jersey for Nate Archibald.
- Sept. 2 – John Gianelli and cash to Milwaukee for a first-round pick.
- Sept. 7 – Ernie DiGregorio to Los Angeles for financial considerations.
- Sept. 9 – A third-round draft choice to Atlanta for Bill Willoughby.
Um, yeah, these trades make Darcy Regier’s deadline deals look like Bill Polian building the 90’s Bills.
“The death knell was early December, when Snyder “traded” McAdoo to the Knicks for garbage and a whole lotta cash. McMillian gone, Tom McMillen gone, Dantley gone, Ernie D gone, Malone gone, Archibald hurt, it gets ugly after that. Had Jack stayed, he may have been able to convince Snyder to be a buyer and not a seller. The New owner, who had no intention of staying in Buffalo and poof, they’re off to San Diego via Boston in a complicated deal.” -John Boutet-
Dr. Jack was a coach who knew his basketball. Maybe he could have convinced Snyder not to trade all these players. Maybe he could have helped bridge the gap between the contract differences that McAdoo and Snyder had. What about Porland’s championship? If he doesn’t get fired, maybe Portland doesn’t win a title. That Portland team are one of the few NBA teams of the 70s, that a lot of fans remember from different ages. Remember, that Portland team disappeared right after the title win because of Bill Walton’s injuries.
Of course, if Ramsay is still around, maybe the Braves don’t move. Remember, the Braves season tickets sales started going down hill (Which was ownership’s defense for moving) once the team started trading away talent and the rumors about them leaving Buffalo got louder.