The Buffalo Braves were a team in the National Basketball Association. They later moved to San Diego, California to become the San Diego Clippers then subsequently the Los Angeles Clippers. Buffalo Braves logo.The Clippers began in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, one of three NBA expansion franchises that began play in the 1970–71 season (the others being the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers). They played their home games at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, sharing the arena with another new franchise, the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, who also debuted in 1970. In addition, from 1971–75, the Braves played a total of 16 home games at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario in the hopes of expanding their fan base beyond Western New York and into the Greater Toronto Area (a similar strategy has been employed by the NFL's Buffalo Bills since 2008). The NBA had two previous teams in Upstate New York, the Rochester Royals and the Syracuse Nationals, but these teams are now the Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers.
The team's first head coach was Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and the franchise's first star players were Bob Kauffman and Don May, who were acquired in the 1970 NBA Expansion Draft. However, in the NBA Draft of 1970, Buffalo passed on hometown hero Calvin Murphy, a 5-foot-9 point guard from Niagara University. Murphy would eventually be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. As is typical of first-year expansion teams, the Braves finished with a dismal record, finishing 22–60, seven games ahead of the Cavaliers, their expansion cousins, who finished at 15–67. Kauffman, who averaged 4.3 points per game the previous year with the Chicago Bulls, led Buffalo in scoring with 20.4 points per game and earned a spot on the 1971 NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team.
The Braves repeated their 22–60 record in the 1971–72 season, but did make good acquisitions that would make the club better. Buffalo drafted center Elmore Smith from Kentucky State University and local favorite Randy Smith from Buffalo State College. John McCarthy replaced Schayes one game into the season as the team's head coach. The team did not do much better in the 1972–73 season, as it went 21–61 under new head coach Dr. Jack Ramsay. The Braves' big move that season was drafting forward/center Bob McAdoo from North Carolina. The team finally made its first playoff appearance in 1973–74, in which it faced the Boston Celtics in the first round and lost in six games. That season, McAdoo posted averages of 15.1 rebounds and 30.6 points; this is the last time any player has surpassed both 30 points and 15 rebounds in the same NBA season.
In 1974–75, McAdoo was awarded the NBA Most Valuable Player Award, averaging 34.5 points, 14.1 rebounds. and 2.12 blocks per game, while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 80.5 percent from the free-throw line. The Braves made trips to the playoffs in both 1974-75 and 1975–76, the latter of which would be their last playoff berth playing in Buffalo.
By the summer of 1976, the team's founding owner Paul Snyder was doing all he could to sell the team. The June 15, 1976 issue of Buffalo's Courier-Express blasted the headline "Braves Go to Florida, Leaving 'Hockey Town'." Snyder had a handshake deal to sell the team to Mr. and Mrs. Irving Cowan, who would move the Braves to Hollywood, Florida, yet the City of Buffalo filed a $10 million damage suit to block the move. The sale eventually fell through and the Braves and the city signed a new 15-year Memorial Auditorium lease in July with a provision that the lease could be voided if the team did not sell 5,000 season tickets in any season. Later that summer, Snyder finally sold 50 percent of the franchise to businessman John Y. Brown, Jr., who had previously owned the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association (ABA). Brown later acquired the remaining half from Snyder sometime in the 1976–77 season; he, in turn, sold a percentage of the team to another businessman, Harry T. Mangurian, Jr.. However, a provision in the transaction stipulated that if Brown sold the contract of any Braves player, then the money would go to Snyder and the purchase price would be reduced. This subsequently occurred when the Braves sent McAdoo to the New York Knicks for players and cash midway through the 1976–77 season.
Before the first game in the 1976-77 season the Braves also managed to acquire eventual Hall-of-Fame center Moses Malone from Portland. However, after just two games in which he played a total of just six minutes, he was traded to Houston for two draft picks. He would finish the season averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds while only two years later winning his first of three MVP Awards.
Because of the team's poor play in its final two years (30–52 in 1976–77 and 27–55 in 1977–78), along with rumors of the franchise relocating because of low season ticket sales, John Y. Brown met with Irv Levin, who then owned the Celtics, and negotiated a deal in which the owners would swap franchises, with Brown taking control of the Celtics and Levin getting the Braves. Levin was a California businessman, and wanted to own an NBA team in his native state. However, he knew the NBA would not even consider letting him move the Celtics. He was therefore very receptive to Brown's offer. The deal was brokered by NBA general counsel David Stern, who became the league's commissioner in 1984. Following what would be the Braves' final season in Western New York, the NBA owners voted 21–1 to let the team relocate. As Levin wanted, the Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego, California after the 1977–78 season, and became the San Diego Clippers.