Buffalo, N.Y.--The Buffalo Braves are history, and professional basketball here has fled--but no one is sure whether, it has gone out to the West Coast or east to Beantown.
Call it the Massacre of '78 or the Great Grab Bag of the Century--by any name, the dissolution of the Buffalo Braves and the realignment of the Boston Celtics and the new San Diego franchise has to go on the record books as an incredible piece of wheeling and dealing.
In all good conscience, I can't extend lavish praise to the manipulators of the multimillion dollar charade--John Y. Brown and Irving Levin. Their actions have done little more than reinforce the feeling that pro basketball--like other professional sports--is soaking in its own big-business broth.
And in this case, everyone came out looking a bit soggy, except possibly for the dreams of Brown and Levin.
The reaction in Buffalo to the trade (if you can call it simply a trade) was somewhat of a cross between out rage and bitter relief.
On the outrage side, there were the "hard-core" sports fans who were again rocked by the departure from Buffalo of a major professional sports attraction. First it was "The Juice" leaving, and now it is an entire organization.
As for relief, though, there were many who were glad to see John Y. Brown departing from Buffalo. Since Brown assumed command of the franchise in 1977, taking over a sinking ship from Paul Snyder, the major topic of his discussions has been where to relocate his organization.
The feud between Brown, the fans and the local press has raged openly as the new owner attempted to prove to the NBA that maintaining a financially-solvent franchise in Buffalo was impossible. Brown labelled basketball a doomed "third sport" in the Queen City, and he watched his Erie-bound ship sink into monetary disaster.
The press and the fans have charged Brown with falsifying figures and presenting a more gloomy picture of things than was realistic. Since late 1976, when then-owner Snyder began the give-away spree of talent, the public has grown discontented with the team.
Who can blame them? A possible contender shipped off Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian, Moses Malone and Tom McMillen. Now, the entire organization is gone; and to some, that disappearance is welcome.
Yet the move from Buffalo, because of the deal involved, has some very disturbing overtones. What has happened is that two millionaire-businessmen have toyed with the NBA, making pawns out of basketball franchises in two major cities.
Inherent in the moves that culminated on the afternoon of July 7 are the, desires of two corporate tycoons. Now there's nothing wrong with big business dealing--but the issue here is how much of it belongs in the sports world.
For Irv Levin, Boston meant a long an tedious future. The town is proud of its teams and demands a winner. Levin had a losing ballclub on his hands, and the team was going steadily downhill.
Boston's failure to make the 1977 playoffs was expensive for Levin, despite the continually good attendence during the regular season. But a new franchise in San Diego gets Levin off the Boston hook and moves him out near his home and close to his West Coast business interests.
For Brown, the Celtics franchise means big time. He inherits a winning history, a vocal crowd and a potentially stronger team. He appears willing to invest the rebuilding dollars that Levin was reluctant to shell out.