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Bringing the WNBA to Buffalo: Reclaiming the Spirit of the Braves, Breaking the Buffalo Sports Curse

Posted on August 08, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell

According to some, the sports woes in Buffalo started when the Buffalo Braves left for Los Angeles.

Recently I completed a satirical series on this site, a sort of “Christmas Carol” for Buffalo sports fans. In the article the ghost of legendary sportswriter Phil Ranallo, who was a lover of the Buffalo Braves of the NBA, pays a series of visits to me explaining the Buffalo sports curse and the only way to break the spell.

If you haven’t read the series you might want to follow this link to get some good context for understanding this article.

To summarize, the series took off with an idea offered by Bill Simmons on ESPN a while back, that the Los Angeles Clippers (the former Buffalo Braves franchise) of the NBA are cursed by the “Indians” for the way they left Buffalo, and that nothing will go right for the Clippers because of it.

According to the Simmons column the name “Braves” referred to Indian warriors, and the inclusion of a feather from an Indian head dress and a buffalo (bison, technically) in the Braves logo meant that by uprooting the team abruptly from a city named Buffalo, and changing the team’s name and logo brought down the wrath of the Great Spirit upon the City of Angels.

(There were also some articles out at the same time stating that the Clippers are not loved in L.A. and would be better off somewhere else).

Sure enough, soon after the original publication of the Simmons column and mine, the Clippers got the number one draft pick, and unlike the last time they had it, actually drafted the best player available—Blake Griffin of Oklahoma—promptly suffered a season ending injury before the first regular game was played.

Inspired by the fantasy visit of Ranallo’s ghost, it occurred to me that Los Angeles is not the only victim of the curse of the kidnapped Braves.   Buffalo has suffered as well.

In the years since the Braves left, Buffalo lost half its inner city population, and its sports teams suffered such calamities known as “wide right” and “in the crease.”  How else do you explain what may have been one of the NFL’s best teams of all time losing four consecutive Super Bowls and never winning one, followed by the so called “Music City Miracle,” and a subsequent playoff drought that begins to equal the Israelites desert wanderings? How else do you explain similar failings of the Sabres over the years?

Was "wide right" part of the curse of the Braves?

In the series, Ranallo’s ghost told me the only fix would be to bring back the Braves. He left me with the charge of raising $300 million to buy the team back from its current owner, Mr. Sterling. Now forget the fact that people with L.A. interests and deep pockets have attempted to buy the team from him and he is not interested. The point is, how do we raise $300 million in Buffalo to bring back a team that’s been gone for 32 years when everyone is focused on trying to keep the Bills from leaving.

Ranallo’s ghost told me that if 55,000 people could buy season tickets to the Bills, it shouldn’t be impossible to find 50,000 people who would shell out $6K once as an investment, not only in getting the Braves back but in breaking the curse so we can have some major league trophies in Buffalo.

Well, I did my best and received commitments for a little less than a grand in cash and a handful of season tickets.

In the post-script to my series, I wrote about the ghost’s final appearance, with plan B. Forget the Clippers, even the NBA, Ranallo’s ghost told me. The future is in women’s major league sports. Buffalo is a ripe market for a WNBA team. Since franchises in the women’s league sell for only $10 million, it shouldn’t be that hard to get a team here. They would play after hockey season and before football, so they should draw well.

And here is my proposal to do just that.

Phil Ranallo was a Hall of Fame writer in Buffalo.

We need to put a group together in Buffalo to purchase the WNBA’s poorest attended team, the Chicago Sky. The Sky is an expansion team, as were the Braves. They have a big strong center, Sylvia Fowles, who was MVP of the WNBA All-Star game (a female McAdoo?). And their colors are the sky blue the Braves used the last few years of their run in Buffalo.

I’ve been covering the Sky for some internet sports outlets. I’ve been sitting in Chicago’s Allstate Arena having frequent flashbacks to the sparsely attended Aud, the way it looked in the Braves’ first year or two before McAdoo, and the way it looked after McAdoo when it was obvious the ownership was looking to run out on us.

I can see bringing the franchise to Buffalo, half-filling  HSBC in the first year, with the same sky blue colors, and a new nickname of the Buffalo Brave (not Braves), using the last Braves logo. There are several reasons why I think this is the right thing for the franchise and for Buffalo.

First of all, as I said, the Sky is the least successful franchise in the WNBA.   Their average attendance has been running at roughly half the average of the league overall, at just under or just over 4,000.

The Braves in their worst years averaged more than 4,000 fans. The fact that it’s a women’s league would not deter old Braves fans from coming out and celebrating pro basketball’s major league return to Buffalo. In fact, the style of play in the WNBA is much more team oriented, much more pure basketball, than it is in the NBA these days.

There is a strong movement of women in leadership in Buffalo right now and I’m confident that whether or not they are sports fans (and it is hard to find a non-sports fan in Buffalo) women business owners, executives, and political leaders will see the benefit for women of supporting a WNBA franchise in Buffalo.

And of course the number one reason we should bring the Sky to Buffalo is that it would break the curse of the Braves so the Bills and Sabres can finally, in a relatively short time, win the ultimate prize, and the Sky franchise, that has yet to make the playoffs in five seasons, would also win a crown within a few years of relocating.

So, we’re taking pledges again. We’re looking for cash pledges toward $10 million and season ticket pledges. Seats for the WNBA run from $150 at courtside, to ten dollars in the nosebleeds.  That times twenty home games gives a range of $200 to $3K for season tickets. A real bargain by major league standards.

If this works out, who knows, maybe we can get the Buffalo Flash moved up to WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer—major league).


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