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A meeting with Snyder results in a change of perspective

Ten years ago, former Executive Sports Editor Steve Jones suggested a feature that would provide a full explanation for the Buffalo Braves leaving town in 1978. I told him it sounded like a terrific idea … for someone else. Thanks but no thanks. I really wasn’t in the mood to get fired.

My biggest problem, some 30 years later, was getting through an interview with former Braves owner Paul Snyder without getting kicked out of his office or arrested. I’m kidding, I suppose. I was 11 years old when they left town, and I never forgave him or John Y. Brown for taking my favorite team.

For me, it was personal.

To this day, I can still hear the public-address announcer booming, “Twoooo for McAdooooo” and “Garfield He-ea-ar-rad” when they scored. I can envision Randy Smith driving to the bucket, Ernie D going behind the back, Adrian Dantley rubbing his hands into the ball before shooting his free throws.

Van Miller was the voice of the Braves long before he became famous for his work with the Bills. The Braves had coupons for cheap tickets on milk cartons. High school teams played in doubleheaders. Can you imagine Frontier High and Williamsville North being the opening act today before the Warriors played the Spurs?

Man, it was awesome.

And then it was over.

In recent years, with coach Jack Ramsay and forward Bob Kauffman passing away and the Braves getting up there in age, my personal anger made room for professional curiosity. Six months ago, I called Snyder on the odd chance that he would be interested in talking. He agreed to speak about their departure for the first time.

Once we sat down in his office, I realized Snyder wasn’t the evil man I assumed for more than 35 years. He was gracious and engaging and funny. Not only was he mentally sharp as ever, he was remarkably unfiltered. He came across like he had everything to share and nothing to hide for the sake of history.

With corroboration from others, it became evident that he deserved praise for giving Buffalo their brief time in the NBA, not criticism for leaving. He understood why people were angry. More than anything, he showed that he cared.

Rather than confronting an enemy, I felt like I made a friend. He did give me the Braves for eight years, after all, which was better than none.

John Y. Brown? Well, let’s just stop here.

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