Marc Stein loved the Buffalo Braves as a boy. Lots of kids in Western New York did in the 1970s. Stein’s story is different, though.
He parlayed his love into a career.
Stein covers the NBA for The New York Times and is one of the nation’s best-known chroniclers of pro basketball. Tonight he’ll cover Game Five of the NBA Finals in Toronto. Before Game One, on May 30, he walked down Yonge Street in a Braves hat — and no one noticed.
“No reaction whatsoever,” he says by email. “Not a single person said a word.”
Stein says he typically wears a Sabres hat when he’s in Toronto, which often elicits reaction from Maple Leafs loyalists.
“I guess I’m still a little kid in a lot ways,” he says.
Stein was a little kid — just 3 — when his family moved to Olean. They left in 1978, when he was 9. As fate would have it, his family traded Western New York for the West Coast in the same year that the Braves did the same.
“I left the area when I was so young and never lived in Buffalo proper,” Stein says. “But I am a romantic — and an even bigger sports romantic. All of my domestic sporting allegiances were cemented before we left Western New York.”
You’ll find proof of this atop his Twitter feed — @TheSteinLine — where a color photo shows Braves legends Randy Smith and Bob McAdoo hustling up the court at Memorial Auditorium.
“Believe it or not," Stein says, “I never made it to the Aud even once. Crushing!”
Stein says the only lasting quarrel he had with his late father was not getting to a game at the Aud. The family was offered tickets occasionally, but some of those offers came in bad weather — the Blizzard of ’77 comes to mind — when driving roundtrip from the Southern Tier to the Buffalo waterfront would’ve been tough sledding.
“So the whole notion of what a Braves or Sabres game feels like is essentially what I can imagine and what I’ve seen on YouTube,” Stein says. “The Aud, by the way, is a palace in those visions.”
The family moved to Olean when Stein’s Romanian-born father, Reuven, was recruited to work as an engineer at Dresser Clark. He’d been at Philadelphia Gear.
“My dad liked sports a lot, but he was from Europe and relatively new to America,” Stein says. “I was an alien in our family. I was obsessed with sports from the minute I discovered the Yankees on WPIX at roughly age 5 or 6, and my undying support for the Braves, Sabres and Bills soon followed.”
His obsession with the Bills has lessened with time, as he doesn’t follow the NFL much anymore, but in those days he adored all the Buffalo teams.
"I loved Joe Ferguson, man,” he says. “But most of all those were the days of McAdoo, Perreault and, of course, O.J. Who knew Buffalo was a ‘small market?’ We had legends everywhere you looked.”
His family left Olean when his father found a job in Southern California — “in a marginally more favorable climate” — at the urging of his mother, Ruth.
“This all happened shortly after the Braves played their final game in Buffalo,” he says, “but I was too young to fully grasp the complexities of the whole franchise swap with the Celtics.”
That convoluted three-way deal involved owners of the Braves and the Boston Celtics trading franchises and the Braves winding up in San Diego, where they became the Clippers. They kept that name when they moved again, this time to Los Angeles.
Stein got a job at the Los Angeles Daily News right out of college at Cal State Fullerton. At age 24, he earned a beat covering an NBA team. Guess which one?
“I never viewed the Clippers as an extension of the Braves,” Stein says, “even though technically they are, according to the way the NBA does its record-keeping.”
He went on to cover the Mavericks in Dallas, where he still lives with his wife and kids. He bitterly recalls when the Dallas Stars beat the Sabres in the No Goal series.
“The only nice thing I can say about the ’99 Stanley Cup Final, when our uniforms were that awful black and red and the outcome was even more diabolical,” he says, “was that I was too busy with the NBA playoffs to see any of the games in Dallas.”
Stein was in Los Angeles on an NBA assignment in 2017 when the NHL All-Star Game was played in LA. He wore Sabres gear all weekend.
“I was on the phone in the elevator when a very nice man pointed to the Sabres crest on my shirt and just smiled,” Stein says. “I hung up in a panic on my dear friend Brian Windhorst of ESPN as the elevator reached the lobby when I realized the very nice man was Gilbert Perreault.
“I chased after him out the front of the hotel and shook his hand but didn’t have the guts to ask No. 11 for a selfie. And I’ve regretted it ever since."