Buffalo, Home of the Braves
"... solidly chronicles the messy eight-year history and unfulfilled potential of the Buffalo Braves."
-- The Buffalo News
Excerpt from Chapter Four
So, the stage was set for Game Six, a.k.a. “Black Friday.”
Before another capacity crowd at the Aud, McAdoo bounced back to lead all scorers with 40 points. Yet what will always be remembered and debated long into the night is the play he made with time running out in the game and the score tied at 104. Ironically, it had been a Bob McAdoo dunk off a Jack Marin steal of a Celtics’ inbounds pass that brought Buffalo to 104-102 with 10 seconds left. Then McAdoo stole another pass and his layup tied the score at 104 with just seven seconds remaining.
That’s when the Celtics’ Don Nelson in-bounded to John Havlicek, whose shot was blocked by McAdoo. Boston’s Jo Jo White grabbed the ball and put up a wild attempt that missed as the buzzer sounded. The Buffalo crowd roared as they believed the game was headed into overtime. The Braves had incredibly made up four points in a frantic 30 seconds to tie the game.
But that’s when heads turned, one by one, to referee Darrell Garretson, who had his arm in the air. He indicated that McAdoo had fouled White in the act of shooting. It was a three-to-make-two situation, so the Celtics guard would receive three foul shots with only one needed to win it.
“I thought it was a bogus foul. I still do,” McAdoo said. “You cannot call a foul like that so late in the game. You can’t have the entire thing decided by something that iffy. You have to let the players decide it on the floor.”
Of course, White disagreed.
“I went up with the shot, he said, “Mac jumped into me and knocked me down.”
As boos and catcalls rained down, White missed the first shot and then made the next two foul shots. Garretson had made the decisive foul call. It was left to his fellow referees, Mendy Rudolph and alternate Manny Sokol to determine if any time was left in the game. Even with one second left, the Braves could have taken the ball at mid-court and tried for a desperation play at the buzzer.
“That’s what I wanted,” Braves coach Jack Ramsay said, years later. “Just one chance. With the way, Mac was shooting the ball. I mean anything could have …”
With that his voice trailed off. The moment still bitter almost thirty years later.
After White’s foul shots gave Boston a 106-104 lead, Rudolph declared that the game was over. Boston had won and was moving on to the next round. A security detail of seven policemen was needed to usher Rudolph, Garretson and Sokol safely out of the Aud that evening. Everybody wanted a piece of them, including Braves owner Paul Snyder.
“You can’t do this to me,” Snyder screamed after being denied entrance to the referees’ dressing room.
“Mendy, the clock …” he yelled at the closed door and then pounded on it a few times with his fists. “That’s a helluva way to operate the league. You can’t throw me out of here. I own the place.”
Despite the disappointing loss, being ousted from the playoffs, the chaotic scene afterward in the bowels of the old Aud still brings a smile to McAdoo’s face.
“I did get a kick out of Paul Snyder pounding on the referees’ door after it was all over,” McAdoo said. “There he was, still trying to get the call changed. I always loved that.”
Only after Snyder disappeared into the night did Rudolph try to explain everything to the media.
“A foul was committed with one second left,” he began. But he quickly ended the press conference after one of the scribes pointed out that would have given the Braves time to run one more play.
“It was terrible call,” Ramsay fumed afterward in the Braves’ dressing room. “(The officials) never asked if any time remained.”
Even White, the guy who hit the winning foul shots, said Buffalo should have gotten one last chance with the ball.
“The timekeeper just ran out the clock,” he told The Courier-Express. “I guess he figured there would be no call, but there was one second left.”
White added that when he saw Garretson’s left arm go up, he rolled over after hitting the floor and looked up. One second was left on the Aud scoreboard. Then it ticked away to zero.
When Van Miller, the team’s play-by-play announcer, got home late that evening, his phone rang. On the other end was Bill Mazur. The former voice of Buffalo Bisons baseball and Niagara basketball, Mazur went on to a larger sports audience in New York City.
“Did McAdoo foul him?” Mazur asked.
“Bill, where are you?” Miller replied.
Mazur told his old friend that he was in Hamilton, N.Y., at parents’ weekend for his son at the local college there. Mazur had snuck away and listened to Miller call of the final minutes on his car radio.
“Was it a legit foul?” Mazur asked.
“It was chintzy call,” Miller replied. “In a game like that, at a moment like that, they had to let them play.”
“That’s what I thought,” Mazur said.
The next day the Braves filed a formal protest that included a copy of Bob Bukaty’s photograph that ran in the Saturday editions of The Courier-Express. In it the ball is in the air, White and McAdoo are falling to the floor and a single second still shows on the Aud clock.
NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy quickly ruled in favor of the referees. The 1973-74 season was over for the Buffalo Braves. The Boston Celtics would go on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games for the NBA title.