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Sports Then and Now

Iron Man Randy Smith

Posted on February 02, 2019 by Dean Hybl

Randy Smith-BravesThe Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month may have had a pretty common name, but his iron man streak as an NBA player was anything but ordinary.

In a streak that lasted more than a decade, Randy Smith played in 906 consecutive NBA games to establish an NBA iron man record that lasted more than a decade.

That Smith made it to the NBA at all was somewhat of an underdog story.

A three-sport standout at Bellsport High School in Long Island (basketball, soccer and track), Smith also was a three-sport All-American at Division II Buffalo State College. He helped lead the Bengals to three straight basketball conference championships and a spot in the 1970 Division II Final Four.

After graduation, he was chosen by the nearby Buffalo Braves with the 104th pick in the 1971 NBA Draft (in the seventh round).

Despite the odds, Smith shined in training camp as a rookie and made the team. As a rookie, the 6-foot-3 Smith averaged 13.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.

Beginning with the start of his second season, Smith played in every game over the next 10 seasons.

Though they posted only a 41-121 record during Smith’s first two seasons, the Braves were building a playoff roster under the leadership of future Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay.

The addition of Bob McAdoo is 1972 and Jim McMillian and Ernie DiGregorio in 1973 helped transform the Braves into a playoff contender.

During the 1973-74 campaign, Smith averaged 15.5 points per game on a squad that included five different players averaging 15 or more points per contest. The Braves improved from 21 wins the previous season to a 42-40 record and spot in the playoffs.

Facing the Boston Celtics, the two teams split the first four games in the best of seven series. In game five at the Boston Garden, the Braves jumped to an early lead and the game was tied at 71-71 entering the final period before Boston pulled out the 100-97 victory. Smith converted 11 of 14 shots in the game and had a team-high 25 points.

Smith struggled in game six, converting only three of 16 shots for 10 total points. However, the Braves stayed with the perennial champions before losing 106-104.

Buffalo continued to improve the following season as they finished second in the Atlantic Division with 49 victories. Smith also continued his growth as he averaged 17.8 points and a team-best 6.5 assists per contest.

Unfortunately, the season for the Braves again ended with a hard-fought playoff loss. This time they took the eventual NBA Finalist Washington Bullets to a seventh game before falling. Smith added 18 points and seven assists in the seven game series.

After raising his scoring average in each of his first four seasons, Smith continued that trend during the 1975-76 campaign with a career-best 21.8 points per game while being named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career.

Though they won fewer games in the regular season (46), the Braves had a solid post season. They won two of three games over the Philadelphia 76ers in the new three-game opening series. In the decisive game played in Philadelphia, Smith scored 27 points with 11 assists as the Braves claimed a 124-123 overtime victory.

For the third straight year, they lost a tough playoff series, this time in six games to the eventual champion Boston Celtics. Smith averaged 22.6 points and 8.6 assists in nine playoff games during the season.

That campaign would prove to be the final postseason run for the Buffalo Braves. Ramsay left after the season and McAdoo was traded early in the 1976-77 season.

After averaging 20.7 points per game during the 1976-77 season, Smith posted a career-best average of 24.6 points per contest during the 1977-78 campaign. He also earned his second All-Star selection and was named the MVP of the 1978 All-Star game.

After the 1978 season, the Braves moved across country to San Diego. Smith remained with the team for their first year in California and was second on the squad averaging 20.5 points per contest.

He was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to the 1978-79 campaign and spent two years in Cleveland before spending the 1981-82 campaign with the New York Knicks. That season marked his 10th straight playing every game.

Returning to San Diego for the 1982-83 campaign, Smith eclipsed the NBA record for consecutive games played, previously held by Johnny Kerr, when he played in his 845th straight game on November 3, 1982. His streak reached 906, a record that lasted for nearly 15 years.

Though it was clear Smith was near the end of his career, Smith was unable to complete his career with his original franchise as he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks late in the season and finished his career with 15 games in Atlanta.

For his career, Smith finished with an average of 16.7 points and 4.6 assists per contest.

One interesting note to Smith’s career was that at the peak of his NBA career, he nearly became a two-sport performer.

In 1975, the former two-time college soccer All-American tried out for the expansion Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North America Soccer League. The team was interested in signing Smith, but the Braves would not let him play professional soccer at the time.

Following his NBA career, Smith served as an executive in the NBA office and as a coach in the Continental Basketball Association.

He passed away following a heart attack in 2009.

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