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Bob Kauffman, Braves’ first star player, dies at age 69

Bob Kauffman, who led the Buffalo Braves in scoring and rebounding in the franchise’s inaugural season of 1970-71, died in suburban Atlanta on Saturday night at age 69.

Lara Kauffman said her father, who had a history of heart trouble, died peacefully in his sleep Saturday evening in his home in Lilburn, Ga.

“He couldn’t have gone in a more peaceful manner,” Lara Kauffman said by phone Tuesday. “His health had been laboring. He had been seeing a cardiologist pretty regularly. So the general consensus is his heart just gave out in the end.”

Kauffman’s death went largely unnoticed in the sports world. But his daughter wanted to make sure the people of Buffalo were aware that the first star in the history of the Braves had passed on. She said Bob’s four years in Buffalo, during which he made three straight NBA all-star teams, were among the best of his life. In his heart, he remained a Buffalo guy to the end.

“My dad left his heart in Buffalo,” said Lara, one of Bob’s four children, all daughters. “He just loved the fans there. He loved the people. He felt embraced by the community and he felt like he was a part of it all. He wanted to make a difference, and so I think it wasn’t the same before or since, really.”

Kauffman, the third overall pick by Seattle in the 1968 draft, spent one season with the Sonics and one with the Bulls before the expansion Braves picked him up in a trade with Philadelphia in May of 1970. In the Braves’ first season of 1970-71, Kauffman averaged 20.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He averaged 18.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in ’71-72 and 17.5 points and 11.1 rebounds in ’72-73. He made the Eastern all-stars in all three seasons for Buffalo teams that lost 60 games.

He had a diminished role for the Braves team that made the playoffs in 1973-74 under coach Jack Ramsay. Kauffman went to the Utah Jazz in the 1974 expansion draft and was shipped the same day to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal that sent Pete Maravich to Utah. Kauffman, hobbled by hip ailments, retired at age 28 after one season with the Hawks. Kauffman coached 58 games in Detroit in 1977-78 after replacing Herb Brown and went 29-29. Later, he served as assistant general manager in Atlanta.

“The Buffalo fans from all over, people who moved to Atlanta or wherever I go, they all remember my dad,” Lara Kauffman said. “What people remembered about my dad was he played very blue-collar. I think he was sort of a reflection of a lot of people in the Buffalo community the way he played. He wouldn’t back down from anybody. He played against Lew Alcindor at the time. He matched up against Wilt Chamberlain. My dad would go head-to-head with those guys.

“He was undersized. He was 6-8 and played a face-up game. But because he was so physical, oftentimes he would match up against the toughest player. He would go toe-to-toe with them. I think his style of play reflected Buffalo a lot. He was a hard-working player. Every timeout, he ran off the court. He was the first to the bench.

“He tried to set a good example of hard work and play,” his daughter added. “If my dad had a late night the night before with the guys, he was up at 5 a.m. running six miles. He never stopped. He was just a committed athlete. He was also a gentleman. He would sign autographs. He had all the patience in the world with the fans. They were important to him. He never treated people as second-class. He always had time for them.”

Lara Kauffman said funeral services will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday from the Calvary Chapel in Lilburn, Ga., where her father lived with his wife, Judy.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com