As we head into a lonnngggggg weekend, a jump forward -- all the way to Monday, and the first Game 7 in LA Clippers history.
|Braves vs. Knicks, 1974, Maple Leaf Gardens.|
It's the franchise's first Game 7 in 31 years -- since it was in Buffalo, playing as the Braves and making the drive up on the QEW for 15 regular season games over the course of two mid-1970s seasons.
A little trip down memory lane, if you will, back to the days of bell bottoms and platform shoes (including a pair of silver and black ones about three feet tall in the window of Master John's on Yonge St. that my barely-teenaged buddies and I would stand in front of, staring and dreaming) ... to the Braves and the Knicks, playing at the Gardens. Randy Smith against Walt Frazier. Ernie D and the Pearl. Buffalo Bob McAdoo. Bob Weiss. Jack Ramsay in a polyester leisure suit.
The ticket pictured, taken from an old scrapbook of mine, was to a 119-97 Buffalo win over the reigning champion Knicks in February, 1974 (I had to look it up to get the score). The Star's report the next day, while the city mourned the death of Tim Horton in a car accident on the QEW going back to Buffalo a couple of days before, included a sidebar of some note:
Harold Ballard, president of Maple Leaf Gardens, says he has the inside track to a National Basketball Association franchise in Toronto for the 1976 season.
Yesterday, he met for several hours with Ned Irish, president of New York Knicks, and a member of the NBA expansion committee.
"I'm sure we can increase the attendance for NBA games next year with greater promotion."
I don't remember much of this game, except that Frazier was a must-see, my favourite player of the era and the co-author of a book that solidified his position as the coolest athlete of the era. But it was the Braves who were, for a brief time, our team. They were a fun team, too, McAdoo one of the purest scorers I've ever seen and Smith lightning-quick, maybe the league's finest player you've never heard of, as David Neiman noted this week in the Washington Post:
Smith, a quiet 57-year-old, has faded into virtual anonymity. The front desk operator at the Mohegan Sun Casino, where Smith now works as the director of player development, was unaware he had been in the NBA.
"There's a Randy Smith here," said a woman who identified herself as Lenore. "I don't know if he was a professional basketball player or not."
Toronto's always had a basketball hardcore, and a generation-plus ago this was how you got your fix -- long droughts punctuated by the odd exhibition game, or the Braves' brief encampments, television, and intermittent pronouncements like the one by Ballard that got your hopes up, but proved to be false alarms. Toronto waited 22 more years for the Raptors. I was too young to drive down to Detroit or the Aud in Buffalo - that came later, and by then the Braves were gone to San Diego, and from there finally to L.A. Smith was there every step, though you'd never know it now:
Smith has not been contacted by Los Angeles one time in the more than two decades since he set so many team records. He made efforts to get in touch with the organization, even speaking with owner Donald Sterling at a past all-star game. Nothing came of it.
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Buffalo Bob goes baseline.
A Clippers spokesman declined when asked to comment about whether the team had made any effort to connect with past players.
"I've even tried going back, because they were my team," Smith said. "I would talk to a few people in management there, but to no avail. So I just stopped."
One more link to the past is completed on Monday. For Braves fans with long memories, you'd think the Clippers would be the team to cheer for. But for Toronto's small crowd of Braves fans, that's Steve Nash out there for Phoenix. It's a tough call, but I'll stick with the original hunch: Suns in 7.
Programming note. If you're wondering about when that game will be played Monday, pay attention to tonight's results: If Dallas and San Antonio goes to a Game 7, it'll be shown Monday night at 8, and the Suns-Clippers broadcast would start at 10:30 (groan!). But if the Mavericks sans Jason Terry win tonight, that series is over and the Suns-Clippers would go at 9 p.m. Monday.
Watching. Detroit at Cleveland (7 p.m., TSN), San Antonio at Dallas (9:30 p.m., the Score). Tonight's doubleheader should be gripping, and leaves open the possibility of as many as THREE Game 7's on tap this weekend as the NBA's best playoff season in years rolls on.
Not watching. Watford at Leeds, Sunday, 10 a.m. I'd love to watch this, the promotion final with the winner going up to the riches of the Premier League and the loser sinking back to the despair of fizzy pop. But it's only available on pay-per-view. Shame.