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NBA Teams for Fans in Buffalo and Upstate New York

  • May 16, 2013

You would never know it if you came here now, but once upon a time - or twice, actually, if you count the 13-game stint the Buffalo Bisons had before heading to the Tri-Cities of Illinois in their journey to becoming today's Atlanta Hawks - the dead industrial city of Buffalo, New York was a real basketball hotbed. Hell, all of Upstate New York loved its hoops. It still does, in fact; there are some great college teams here, and all hoops fans rally around the Syracuse University basketball team come March. The Orangemen are the one team every basketball fan in the state agrees on. But the purpose of this list is professional basketball - the NLL, BAA, and NBA. And as far as that goes, the region's most notable team is probably the Buffalo Braves, an NBA team that had the misfortune of getting in just after Buffalo's decline started and ran for only eight years. The Braves still have a visible imprint on the area, and Braves gear is fairly common. Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley has fond memories of his rookie year, which he spent with the Braves. "Aw man, it was wild. Them fans in Buffalo, they were crazy. They loved the Braves," Dantley said. Bob McAdoo, one of the NBA's underrated legends, spent his most prolific years with the Braves, and entered the Hall of Fame as a Brave despite his accomplishments with more prolific teams. "They called us thoroughbreds," was his remark. Dr. Jack Ramsay, the legendary coach who took the Portland Trail Blazers to their only title, had good years with the Braves, and Moses Malone also called Buffalo home for a brief time. 


The departure of the Braves - and the subsequent refusal of the Los Angeles Clippers, who they eventually became, to refuse to acknowledge their past in Buffalo - scattered the loyalties of the area's NBA fans. There's barely any team uniformity for the league, but what little uniformity that does exist is for.... The Boston Celtics. Now, this is just absurd to me. No offense to the city of Boston, but sports politics quite clearly dictate that no Buffalo person shall, under any circumstances, cheer for the Boston Bruins or New England Patriots. Baseball loyalties tend to be more flexible, and while Buffalo is home to a large contingent of Red Sox fans, it's still dominantly Yankees territory. Therefore, I'll grant a pass to those fans of baseball and basketball who cheer both the Red Sox and Celtics. Those who like the Yankees and Celtics, though, come off as front-runners. I mean, we teach our kids in Buffalo to spend 15 minutes a day staring at pictures of Tom Brady, Zdano Chara, and David Ortiz, learning to HATE them, but when it comes to the Celtics, it's "oh, they're cool."? It doesn't wash. Maybe it's the Irish name or the 17 titles? Really folks, we have to stand up for our sports principles, so in the interest of trying to make Buffalo people into better basketball fans, here is a list of NBA teams Buffalo fans can (and SHOULD) place above the Boston Celtics.

Brooklyn Nets
Forget that Brooklyn is part of New York City. It's the one borough that most wants to distance itself from the rich assholes running Manhattan. Their newly-placed basketball team, the Nets, is a reflection of Brooklyn's down-to-Earth sensibilities. Despite being located in upscale New York City, the Nets project a reflection stripped of all the glitz, and the result is a team that looks and plays like it would be comfortable in not only Brooklyn, but in Syracuse, Rochester, or Buffalo. The players are mostly drama-free, punch-clock joes who get in, get the job done with dignity, and collect the checks. Of course, the one problem is that the Nets are the hip new team right now, and we don't know anything about their future. They don't have much of a past, either; while their two titles and five Conference Championships hold up well against their big-time counterparts in Madison Square Garden, (two titles, eight Conference Championships,) both titles and three of those Conference Championships occurred in the ABA days, which means the NBA doesn't give a shit. Honestly, though, if the titles are a problem, why do you root for the Bills and Sabres?
See the full review, "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn".
If there's one sports city that can claim to suffer as much as Buffalo, it's Cleveland. They lost their marquee, transcendent sports star on a national TV fiasco which embarrassed them. They lost a legendary football team which was replaced by a crew of phonies and inept pretenders claiming to be the old team, wearing their colors, and claiming their history while the REAL old team went on to become a two-time Super Bowl Champion. That's not even going down the list of on-field misfortunes. Plus, Cleveland is a Rust Belt city just three hours down the road. It's similar to Buffalo in numerous ways, from its blue collar people to its industrial base. Unfortunately, the Cavs also suck to high hell, and the city doesn't have much more than misery to attract fans and free agents. Also, the Cavaliers tend to be the city's most backburner team - Cleveland will always be a football and baseball city before it's a basketball city, and the NBA also treats it like a backwater market.
See the full review, "Not All LeBron's Fault".
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers always came off on me as the NBA team most like the Buffalo Sabres. When Portland was first granted the Blazers, it was the smallest market in the league. While Portland can't play the small market card anymore, the fans have rallied around their Blazers in a way reminiscent of the way Buffalo and upstate New York fans watch the Sabres. The teams have similar runs of success on the field, too: Excellent most of the time, but they can never seem to close, and even when they do, they're underdogs who get overpowered by a team that's just better. The Blazers have won three Conference Championships to compare to the Sabres' two, and one title back in 1977. The coach of that title team was none other than Jack Ramsay, by the way. Unfortunately, the practical downside of having a team like the Sabres is that they'll rip your heart out like the Sabres pretty frequently. Portland, despite its growth, isn't a popular market, so don't expect LeBron to announce that he's taking his talent to Oregon when The Decision II comes along.
See the full review, "A Team for Those Who Prefer the Road Less Traveled".
Philadelphia 76ers
The last three teams are all relative newcomers, and perhaps you're looking to follow a team with more of a pedigree? You won't find a much better pedigree than the Sixers. First of all, they pack a serious Upstate New York connection - they were originally the Syracuse Nationals. They even won a Championship during their tenure in Syracuse, and they invented the shot clock. Including their Syracuse title, they also won two titles since their move to Philadelphia with both of those Championship teams being staples in debates about the greatest team ever. The first one, in fact, broke up the Celtics dynasty that won eight titles in a row. The Sixers have fielded some of the greatest names in NBA history, including Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley. Chamberlain and Barkley give the Sixers a lot of character, and for those fans who like roller coaster teams, the Sixers also fielded a nine-win team which is among the worst in league history. Of course, you have to endure the fact that the Sixers have been living pretty stupid lately. When your big star is Andrew Bynum and he hasn't played in a year, you'll be proven wrong about the exact location of rock bottom fairly often.
See the full review, "A True Original".
San Antonio Spurs
Save the fact that they play in Texas, nearly everything I said about the Brooklyn Nets applies to the San Antonio Spurs as well. The Spurs, however, also have an impressive Championship pedigree: Their four titles are surpassed by only the Celtics (17), Los Angeles Lakers (16), and Chicago Bulls (6). Unfortunately, the Spurs are also the NBA response to a different team which is from New Jersey: The NHL's Devils. Like the Devils, they won their titles using a defensive technique that exploited loopholes in rules to such an extent that they nearly ruined the sport. Like the Devils, executive interference with the rulebook was needed to save it.
See the full review, "Spurred On".
Detroit Pistons
Another dead Rust Belt city, but the Pistons command far more respect than their Rust Belt counterparts. These guys have been around since the NBL days, and they won two titles as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons before moving to Detroit, which means they have small-time roots. In Detroit, they fielded Bob Lanier, the greatest NBA player to ever come out of Buffalo. In the 80's, they began emphasizing a coda of unity and teamwork which never really left them and which brought them three titles (1989, 1990, 2004). None of their superstar players averaged over 20 points per game - they won through grit and old-fashioned teamwork. Also, they've had underdog appeal to blue collar people through all of it. As for the cons of rooting for the Detroit Pistons, though, well, if the NBA had a jail system, most of their players from their best years WOULD be cons. They made a name through flopping, dirty play, and unsportsmanlike conduct. Even today, between the infamous Malice at the Palace and Isiah Thomas's disastrous tenure running the New York Knicks and Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman being themselves, the Pistons still have trouble shaking that image.
See the full review, "More Power".
Golden State Warriors
Another team with a Sabres-like pedigree, the Warriors have three titles, one of which dates back to the BAA. They have two titles and six Conference Championships. Better number than the Sabres, but that's easily augmented by the fact that they haven't been back to the Finals since their 1975 title. Wilt Chamberlain was originally drafted into the NBA by the Warriors, and he played his famed 100-point game for them. The reason the Warriors are really on this list, though, is because a lot of onlookers today are comparing today's Warriors to those great old Buffalo Braves teams. The Braves, who once featured a player named Randy Smith who might have been the fastest in the league, were a real track-meet team that averaged over 100 points per game. The Golden State Warriors even wear blue and gold, like Buffalo's current hockey team. The downside is that they're extremely inconspicuous. Until they beat the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs a few years ago, in fact, they were completely forgotten.
See the full review, "They are the Warriors! Too Bad No One Knows it!".
New York Knicks
My chosen team besides the Bulls, and The New York Team. The Knicks tend to come off as real underdogs, though, because they don't have the regular pedigree of every other senior New York Team (Yankees, Giants, Rangers). They're not drenched in titles, or even the NBA's transcendent names. Sure, they've had their greats, but the only real marquee name on their all-time roster is Patrick Ewing, who was arguably just in the right place at the right time. The Knicks have fielded teams which are surprisingly tough and never-say-die. Just a few years ago, they were no-names, and just last season, Jeremy Lin became the underdog story of the year. Plus, being The New York Team, you'll always have a reason to believe in them, no matter how bad they get, because New York City has real draw power. On the downside, The New York Team is still The New York Team, and lately they've been more focused on causing drama and star Carmelo Anthony's ego than on basketball. Plus, James Dolan is one of the worst owners in sports, period.
See the full review, "In the New York Groove".
Los Angeles Lakers
Do those titles REALLY mean that much to you? Fine, here's the Los Angeles fucking Lakers. Satan is on line three. He would like a word with you.
See the full review, "Walking on Water".

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Nicholas Croston ()
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