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Sports Then and Now

Draining the Lakers in OKC; Flashback to Buffalo vs. Boston in 1974

Posted on April 27, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell

Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City are the most recent "upstart" team to challenge a perennial power.

There are a lot of similarities between the Oklahoma City Thunder, their current position in the NBA Playoffs versus the Los Angeles Lakers, and another “most improved” NBA team taking on Goliath, more than 35 years ago.

Like Buffalo in 1974, Oklahoma City is enjoying recent admission to the NBA. Like Buffalo, one of the smallest markets in the league in 1974, Oklahoma City is the smallest market in the NBA. Like Buffalo in 1974, the Oklahoma City Thunder have taken two young stars (Bob McAdoo, Ernie DiGregorio) and a core group of role players, let them mature, and a year later they have won almost 30 games more than the previous season, making the playoffs for the first time. And like Buffalo in 1974, Oklahoma City is holding their own with one of the league’s institutional powers. This year in Oklahoma City it’s the Lakers. In Buffalo in ’74 it was the Celtics. And like Oklahoma City this year, with their arena jam packed with loud partisan fans wearing team colors, Buffalo had filled the old “Aud” to capacity to urge their team on.

Travel back in time with me to April 6, 1974, to the greatest moment in the history of the Buffalo Braves.   The following is an excerpt from The Buffalo News.

The Braves and Celtics met in Game Four of their playoff series in a jammed (18,000–plus) Memorial Auditorium. The game went back and forth, and with seconds remaining the Celtics had moved into a 102-102 tie. That set the stage for the final seconds.

Ernie DiGregorio took control of the basketball and passed to Bob McAdoo at the top of the key. McAdoo missed, but no one on the Celtics boxed out Jim McMillian. The Buffalo forward was all alone and tapped in the rebound easily as the buzzer sounded.

Those in the building that Saturday afternoon erupted over a 104-102 Braves win that evened the series at two games each. The Celtics were quite good then, featuring John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White, and they would go on to the NBA title. But for four games, the upstart Braves had played them exactly even in an intense series.

What is not reminiscent of the Buffalo Braves, is in fact counter to their memory, is that the Thunder are the former Seattle SuperSonics, a much loved franchise ripped from the hearts of fans in Seattle. I have to block out that fact in order to enjoy the David v. Goliath contest in the city where I earned my bachelor’s degree. But the difference is that if you compare the status of the two cities, OKC is more like Buffalo and Seattle more like LA, so I’ll run with that.

And with that being said, it was such a treat to watch the Thunder squeak out a victory in their first playoff game at home, and win a decisive victory in their second, forcing a return home for game six no matter what. As an avid fan of all underdogs and antifan of all Goliaths, I am looking forward to the ultimate upset when the series concludes.

Given all that Oklahoma City has suffered recently, and given that the anniversary of the city’s worst day nearly coincided with the first NBA playoff game ever played in OKC, America has an added reason to make the Thunder America’s Team.

Having lost my beloved Buffalo Braves, I have adopted the Thunder as my surrogate Braves and am strapped in for vicarious redemption.

But what if it could be more than vicarious? What if the Clippers could be purchased and returned to Buffalo to their original identity? Or what might plan B be? Check out my “satirical series” about a visit from a ghost named Brave Throat.

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