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Rapids' new era tips off with win

In the minds of the Buffalo Rapids, who endured the hollow slogans and empty promises of the Gary Nice era, their record now stands at 1-0.

The rebirth of the American Basketball Association franchise kicked off Tuesday night with a thrilling 113-110 overtime victory over the Harlem Strong Dogs at the Park School.

Brad Buddenborg's three-pointer from the left corner with six seconds left proved to be the winner for the Rapids (3-7). Guard Tim Winn sent the game into the extra session with a three-pointer just before the buzzer that sent the 250 in attendance into a frenzy.

Winn led the Rapids with 31 points, 10 assists and five steals, while Buddenborg scored 16 points, including six in overtime. It was a start to erasing the memory of a few weeks ago when the Rapids appeared in danger of folding.

"To tell you the truth I really didn't know, it wasn't a great feeling that the team had," Buddenborg said. "Most of our team is local and we wanted to push through. We had some talks and it just ironed itself out. We had faith, something you can't see yet."

It came in the form of new ownership, someone yet to be identified, who essentially saved the team from suffering the fate of many fledging ABA franchises.

Nice, who brought the expansion team to Buffalo, informed the team following a game Nov. 29 that he couldn't make payroll. The next day he quietly left town and moved back to Arizona. That came on the heels of Erie Community College severing ties with the Rapids following a contract dispute with Nice over rent of the Flickinger Center, which hosted the team's first two games.

Last week ABA Commissioner Joe Newman removed Nice as owner. The new owner came in and the players, coaches and front office staff are now being paid.

"We have our feet under us now and the last time we played, we didn't," Winn said. "It's tough to play under those conditions and we've been playing like that for a while. . . . It's tough to be out there fighting and you don't know what you're fighting for. It all could have ended the next day."

Minor-league basketball is a rickety venture at best, and most of the players knew this going in. But Winn said Nice "tampered with guys' careers."

"I'm going to keep it positive despite how (ticked) off he made everyone," said Winn, who along with guard Trevor Ruffin (Bennett) were the first players to sign with the Rapids. "He didn't know what he was getting into, but he's a forgiven man."

But some players were close to having a Ron Artest moment with Nice because of their frustration levels.

"It was a good thing he wasn't around," Winn said. "But you can't fault the guys. This is post college. This is how guys put food on their table. You're taking food off my table and you knew what you were doing. You knew it, which makes it worse and then you skipped town before making everything all right."

Still, the franchise is far from stable. The Rapids have yet to secure a permanent home and will play at Park School again on Thursday night. A meeting is scheduled today with ECC to see if the relationship can be repaired, and finding a new home may be the franchise's biggest hurdle.

"But," Buddenborg said, "it's getting easier."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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