Get an Albany Patroon to run your sports league

I have never shied away from my love for the long-departed Albany Patroons basketball team.  Two championships, five regular-season titles, and a slew of NBA players and coaches came from our little Continental Basketball Association team.

And today I want to take a moment and salute one of those former Patroons and his successful involvement with another pro basketball circuit.

David Magley played for the Albany Patroons during their 1983-84 championship year.  The 6’8″ small forward from Kansas spent a few weeks with the Cleveland Cavaliers organization prior to his Patroons run, then he moved on to the coaching ranks.

Continue reading “Get an Albany Patroon to run your sports league”

The Trading Cards of the Albany Patroons

The Albany Patroons have always had a special place in my heart and in my sports memory.  I was a fan during their days at the Armory; I cheered for them when they moved to the Knickerbocker Arena; I cried when they moved to Hartford; I celebrated when they came back to the Armory; and I cried again when the team – and the Continental Basketball Association – bit the dust in 2009.

And within all those moments, I saved several treasures and collectibles, including some game-worn uniforms, basketballs, programs and pennants.

In today’s blog, I want to share with you a nice little collectible series from the Patroons’ years – their player trading cards.  There were several seasons where the Pats either manufactured their own trading card packs, or they were produced as part of a league set.  Sometimes these sets were given away at the game; others were purchased at the souvenir stand or through the CBA front office.

img_20161116_0001The Patroons first took the court in the CBA’s 1982-83 season, and several players from their Opening Day roster were featured on a 90-card league set.  The set, manufactured by the trading card company TCMA, featured Albany Patroons stars Frankie J. Sanders (the “J” stood for Jumpshot, in case you were wondering), Mike Davis (the first Albany Patroon to earn an NBA call-up), and Patroons head coach Dean Meminger.

img_20161116_0002Also in that trading card set was former Albany Patroons player (and two-game coach) Sam Worthen, who took over as coach when Meminger was fired, and ran the team until Phil Jackson was hired.  Recently, Sam Worthen worked as the head coach of the Washington Generals – yep, the team that has gone winless against the Harlem Globetrotters for nearly four decades.

img_20161116_0003During the 1989-90 season, the Continental Basketball Association partnered with ProCards, a company that produced team card sets for minor league hockey and minor league baseball squads.  Each CBA squad had their team cards in cellophane “team sets” packs, which were either given away or sold at the Patroons’ souvenir stands.

img_20161116_0004The lineup for the 1989-90 Patroons card set included future NBA star Mario Elie and Vincent Askew, as well as Patroons roleplayers Clinton Smith and David Popson.  Note the spelling of “ALBANY” on Popson’s jersey.  This was the Patroons’ transition season from the Armory to the Knickerbocker Arena; but it appears that most of the photos in this set were taken during an Armory contest.

img_20161116_0005Now we go to the 1990-91 Patroons squad.  Again produced by ProCards as part of cello-wrapped team sets, this Patroons series features more action shots and less “close-up” photos.  This was the squad that went 50-6 in the regular season and sent several players to the NBA.  The set includes cards for Vincent Askew and Mario Elie, as well as for former NBA player Albert King (trying to make a comeback by playing on the Patroons), George Karl (this was his second go-round as Pats head coach), and Terry Stotts (who would later become an NBA head coach).

img_20161116_0006The 1990-91 Patroons squad were the first U.S. pro basketball team to finish with an undefeated home record in nearly 50 years, as their 50-6 run included going 28-0 at the Knickerbocker Arena.  Unfortunately, a massive winning record in the CBA means that your players will get called up to the NBA around playoff time, and that’s what happened to the Pats.  Without Vincent Askew or Mario Elie in the lineup, Albany was quickly eliminated in the playoffs by Wichita Falls.  Grr.

img_20161116_0007The Continental Basketball Association created another league set in the 1991-92 season, again working with ProCards.  This was the Patroons team that was built for a hometown crowd, as its lineup included former Siena superstar Marc Brown.  Unfortunately, the roster went into a massive flux, and the team limped into the playoffs, only to be eliminated in an opening round “play-in” match.

img_20161116_0008This set actually includes – believe it or not – Derrick Rowland’s rookie card.  Yeah, yeah, I know, Derrick Rowland’s been an Albany Patroon for so long, the team should have been named the Rowlands.  But when Derrick entered the CBA in 1982, he was a member of the Rochester Zeniths, and was not part of the 90-card CBA TCMA set.  By the time the Patroons had trading cards again, Derrick wasn’t on the team when the photographer came around.  So in his final year as an active player – he finally gets a rookie card, which you can see at right.

The CBA and ProCards ended their partnership after the 1991-92 season, and the Patroons moved out of Albany after the 1992-93 abortive “Capital Region Pontiacs” season.  Less said about that, the better.

But the Patroons did return to the CBA in the 2005-06 season, and during the 2006-07 season a set of trading cards was produced by the team itself.  I should know, I was the photographer for those games – yep, me and my little Nikon D70 and my 80-200 f/2.8 telephoto.

img_20161116_0009The 2006-07 Patroons set featured the team’s stars from that season, so fans could acquire trading cards for T.J. Thompson, Jamario Moon, Felipe Lopez and John Strickland.  And during the time when Jamario Moon was starring in the NBA, that little trading card at left actually had some serious collectible investment value – I heard at one point the card could sell for over $50.  Today, it’s probably worth about $3.  But that’s speculation for you.

img_20161116_0010The set also included trading cards for head coach Micheal Ray Richardson, and a card for the team’s mascot – a furry panda bear named Lido.  No, don’t even ask me how the Patroons ended up with a panda bear for a mascot.  No, don’t ask me why he’s named Lido.  Go ask Jim Coyne, it was his idea.

So I thought today you might appreciate seeing some of Albany’s sporting history, as it appeared on vintage trading cards.  This is cool in and of itself.

And it brings back a lot of great memories.

 

Bye-bye, Orlando Predators

During the years when Albany had a top-level Arena Football team, the Firebirds had several “rival” opponents.  There were the Tampa Bay Storm, who never seemed to lose when they came to our building.  There was the Detroit Drive, with quarterback Art Schlichter, who would take bets on everything and anything.

But mostly, the biggest opponent and fiercest rival for the Firebirds were the Orlando Predators.

Albany versus Orlando was like printing money.  They were two teams that hated each other, and the rivalry spread from that point.  Orlando had Barry Wagner, who could score touchdowns on a whim; while we had “Touchdown” Eddie Brown, who wet Arena League records for touchdowns in a season.  Oh yeah, and he’s also Pittsburgh Steelers super-wide receiver Antonio Brown’s father.  Heck, Time Warner Cable actually created a challenge trophy for games between Albany and Orlando, that’s how powerful those matches were.

In 1999, the Firebirds and the Predators met at ArenaBowl XIII, the league championship series, with Albany hosting.  Albany won the game 59-48, with QB Mike Pawlawski throwing four touchdown strikes to Brown.  But the Predators were so good at that time, that Barry Wagner earned the “Ironman” trophy of the game, despite playing on the losing team.  Still, twelve years after that classic battle, both Eddie Brown and Barry Wagner were elected to the Arena Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

But by 2011, the Albany Firebirds were a distant memory.  The team moved to Indianapolis, a second-division Arena League team called the Albany Conquest played downtown (they were awful), and even a last-season change to the old Firebirds name didn’t help the sagging attendance.

Now comes the news that the Orlando Predators, after three decades in the Arena Football League, are suspending operations and leaving the AFL.  The AFL’s financial woes have been cited as the main reason for Orlando’s decision, but there are certainly other behind-the-scenes reasons that we’re not completely privy to.

I know.  For someone who hasn’t had a reason to follow the Arena Football League in 15 years, and who barely watched a few moments of it when it was on TV since the time the Firebirds moved away, it’s hard to understand why anyone would care.

Well, here’s why I care.

At one point in time, the Arena Football League was a viable gridiron alternative when the NFL and the college game weren’t on the schedule – i.e., during the spring and summer.  And although there were several upstart football circuits that tried to take the NFL’s thunder – the United Football League, the XFL, just to name two – there was always the excitement and unpredictability of the Arena League.

Think about this.  50 yard gridiron.  Eight men per side, and seven had to play offense AND defense.  Big springback nets in the end zones to corral the action.  Dasher boards on the sidelines.  A razor-thin goalpost opening to humble even the most accurate field goal kickers.  And high-scoring action.  That was Arena Football.  And it was fun, and it was exciting.

You know who else thought the league was exciting?  Rock musicians.  John Bon Jovi owned a team for a few years (the Philadelphia Soul).  Gene Simmons also owned a squad (the LA KISS).

At one point in time, the league had as many as eighteen franchises.  But this year, the league is rumored to have dropped down to maybe four teams.  Four teams.  That’s not a league, that’s a tournament.

And with the Predators out of the league, only the Tampa Bay Storm remains from the days when Albany was a part of this circuit.

I wanted to find a video clip of ArenaBowl XIII – the game where Albany dominated Orlando in an intense rivalry that never seemed to end.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online video footage of that competition.  Darnit.

I just know one thing.  The Orlando Predators were a helluva rival.

Sorry to see them go.

 

Remembering Fritz Walker

It’s November of 1989, and the Albany Patroons are about to host the Omaha Racers at the Washington Avenue Armory for the season opener.

The Pats had a new coach, former General Manager Gerald Oliver, and most of their nucleus from the 1988-89 season (Mario Elie, Vince Askew, Clinton Smith).

But before the game began, the team and fans remembered one man not in the Armory that night – Fritz Walker, the Pats’ number one fan, who passed away on November 9th.

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Fritz Walker was a huge fan of the game, in spirit as well as size. His heart and love for the Patroons was as large as his body, and the team accepted him as its own official mascot. An accomplished photographer, Fritz took pictures of every player and every play. When teams came to Albany, Fritz took their team photos. “When you think about Fritz,” Lowes Moore told the Times Union’s Tim Wilkin, “you think about him out having a good time and enjoying life. He was the kind of guy you would never think would pass away.”

Walker’s dancing brought him his greatest notoriety. During the fourth quarter, or if the Patroons were starting to lose, Fritz would step onto the field during a time out, dancing and bouncing and shaking while the public address system played “Shout!” He danced during the Patroons’ first telecast on ESPN, and Fritz’s boogie appeared on some “lighter side of sports” videotape compilations.

Depending on the opponent, he varied his dance with a prop or two, as team statistician Doug Dickinson remembered. “I will never forget in 1985, when the Puerto Rico Coquis were in the league, he came to a game dressed up with a grass skirt on, with a big sign on him, ‘WHAT THE HELL IS A COQUIS?’ It’s just the funniest thing you ever want to see.”

And Walker saw lots of Patroon games – even the ones outside the Armory. “He’d make at least one road trip a year with them,” said Dickinson. “He went on a 10-day road trip through Savannah, Georgia, Tampa, Biloxi, and he went on the road with them. When we had teams in Worcester, Bangor, Lancaster, he’d call me up, ‘Doug, let’s go.’ So we’d get in his car or my car and we’d go to the games.”

Tim Wilkin’s favorite Fritz Walker story involved the 1988 Championship Series. Down 3 games to 2, the Patroons arrived in Newark for a connecting flight to Albany. Walker was there to greet them. Gary Holle gave his gold credit card to Walker, and told him to get the Pats some dinner in Jersey, on Holle. Holle suggested the team dine at McDonald’s or a sub shop, but Walker shrewdly asked Micheal Ray Richardson (who knew the area best) to find an eatery somewhere in town.

Richardson happily obliged, and the Patroons devoured ten main courses (along with three entrees apiece) at a 5-star restaurant. When the waiter arrived with the bill (almost $800, including tip), Walker handed over Holle’s credit card without another word. Buoyed by Fritz Walker’s kindness (and by a four-course meal apiece), the Patroons won the last two games of the Championship.

For most people, there are four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. Fritz Walker had two seasons on his calendar – Patroons season and A-C Yankees season. The A-C Yankees honored Walker’s memory by creating the Walker Cup, a trophy given to the most valuable Albany-Colonie player (past recipients include major leaguer Bernie Williams and Olympic gold medalist Dave Silvestri).

A banner was raised in the Armory – “FRITZ” was all it said. A white circle bearing Fritz’ name was painted on the floor, the spot where Walker danced for the fans.

The crowd observed a moment of silence.

Just then, the strains of “Shout” played through the speakers one more time. “A little bit softer now – A little bit softer now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now!”

“Shout!” blared through the public address system, a tribute to the man who boogied every fourth quarter of every Pats game. Some of the crowd sang along, some cheered, others clapped.

And during the game, which Albany won 110-103, many couldn’t take their eyes off the white circle on the court. Or the “FRITZ” banner hung in the rafters, in an area reserved for championship banners.

The 6th Patroon would have been proud to be included in such regal company.

When Muhammad Ali fought at the Washington Avenue Armory

Yes, it’s true.  There was a time when Capital District boxing fans could see the greatest prizefighter of all times, the former Cassius Marcellus Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali.

Yes, you could actually travel to the intersection of Washington and Lark Streets, and pay a few dollars to watch Ali decimate his opponents.

And before you question whether any of this is true…

I can affirm.  I have ticket stubs.

Ali_Frazier

That’s right, Ali fought Frazier and fans in the Armory saw it live.

Well…

What they saw was something called an “Exclusive Theater Telecast,” a “closed circuit broadcast” that allowed fans to watch this fight without having to travel to the Philippines for a ringside seat.

Back in the day, theaters and cinemas often offered special live theater broadcasts.  In fact, many prizefights based their success – or their failure – on closed-circuit gate receipts.  These theater broadcasts took plenty of preparation; you needed special projectors and equipment for the day’s broadcast, and Heaven forbid that anything malfunctioned.

In Albany, the Washington Avenue Armory hosted many closed-circuit boxing telecasts, and tickets for these events pop up now and again on eBay.

Ali_Inoki

The gate receipts for closed-circuit boxing broadcasts was so important to the profit margin, it was not unusual for fights to start at odd local times.  The Ali-Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” actually started at 4:00 a.m. in Zaire, so that the American audiences could see the fight live on evening closed circuit broadcasts.

Ali_Foreman

So technically Ali did have some fights in Albany. Yeah, he was beating George Foreman to a pulp in Africa, but fight fans in Albany saw him “rope-a-dope” Foreman as clear as day.

Obviously, the loss of the greatest boxer of all time is still paramount; thoughts and prayers to the Ali family on their time of sorrow.

But I still have to tell this anecdote.

Years ago, one of my friends – a person who worked with various local sports teams – invited me over to his place.  He showed me his extensive collection of autographed memorabilia – which all led up to him showing me the famous photo of the champ, moments after knocking out Sonny Liston, glowering over him in the Lewiston, Maine ring.

I noticed the signature on the picture.  “Cassius Clay.”

“He never signs anything as ‘Cassius Clay,'” my friend said to me.  “But he agreed to sign this picture for me with his original name.”

Now I don’t doubt that the signature is authentic.

But there’s just one problem.

Prior to that fight, Cassius Clay had changed his name to Cassius X – and then, to Muhammad Ali.

And although my friend had the picture signed as if it represented Clay-Liston II…

That fight was technically Ali-Liston II.  Oops…

Hey, maybe I can find out if he also has an autographed Lew Alcindor Los Angeles Lakers jersey… hee…

A prayer for local racing legend Shirley Muldowney

Do you remember Shirley Muldowney?  Do you remember the dozens of races she drove at Fonda Speedway?  Do you remember her as the first woman to earn a professional National Hot Rod Association driver’s license?  Do you remember that night in 1971 when she dominated the competition at Lebanon Valley Speedway? Do you remember her as winning several racing titles and championships in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s?

Here, let me refresh your memory.

Maybe you remember a female drag racer whose life story became the TV movie Heart Like A Wheel.  You might have a memory of that.

I mention these accolades to ask all of you to keep Shirley Muldowney in your thoughts and prayers.

The Schenectady native who went on to racing superstardom has announced on her personal blog that she is currently battling Stage II lung cancer, and is currently undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from one of her lungs.

This is sad and scary.   Unfortunately, cancer does not discriminate.  It hits old and young, male and female, and no matter how many Funny Car and Top Fuel races you’ve won, cancer is hard to outrun.

It’s not impossible… doctors and scientists have made tremendous advances in treating cancer.  But the race isn’t over yet.  Not by a million miles.

Shirley has fought for every win she ever earned.  Nothing was handed to her on a silver platter.  Her championships were against the top drivers in her sport, and even today she is an inspiration to millions of motorsports drivers, both male and female.

Even in this battle against her own cancer, Shirley has asked that any donations of support be sent not to her, but to a children’s charity known as Shirley’s Kids, a charity designated to help children in need and in crisis.

All thoughts and prayers of support to Shirley Muldowney.  And anyone who remembers Shirley’s great races at Fonda or at Lebanon Valley or at the major funny car or top fuel championship races… keep Shirley in your thoughts and in your heart.

She’s battled every sort of glass ceiling to reach the top of her profession.

The possibilities are still strong.

#ShirleyStrong

 

Support Jamario Moon in the TBT Basketball Tournament 2016!

I am a long-time fan of all things related to the Albany Patroons.  I keep an eye out for the progress of former players and coaches, and I have several former Pats as Facebook friends, Twitter followers and even an Instagram contact or two.

I am also a supporter of the TBT Basketball Tournament, the summer independent hoops tournament that is now entering its third year.  Last year, I supported Team Mill Rats, an offshoot squad that featured several players from the National Basketball League of Canada’s Saint John Mill Rats.

At one point last year, the team would have included former Albany Patroons and NBA superstar Jamario Moon.  But at the last minute, Moon jumped to another team, and the Mill Rats were clobbered in their first round appearance.

So now comes this year’s tournament.  Do I go back and support the Mill Rats again … or do I follow my fandom and support Jamario Moon’s team?

Good question.

Here, let me answer it.

For the 2016 TBT Tournament, I am lending my support to the squad known as Clutch ATL.  Clutch ATL is entering the South Division of the TBT Tournament, and besides Jamario Moon, the squad also includes former Atlanta Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap, his brother from Middle Tennessee State Abraham Millsap, and international pro basketball star Brion Rush.

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that the team also includes Jamario Moon, who went from the Albany Patroons to eventually be teammates with, at one time or another during his NBA career, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Shaquille O’Neal and Blake Griffin?  Yeah, that Jamario Moon.

So here’s what I ask of you, my fellow blog readers and hoops fans.

Click on this link and support Clutch ATL in the TBT Basketball Tournament.  Every vote that Clutch ATL gets brings them closer to qualifying for the 97-team knockout bracket.  And once they get in the game… just wait until J-Moon gets the basketball and flies through the air.

Yeah, I know I could support Team Mill Rats again… I could… but I would rather support my man J-Moon.  Besides, what other basketball player do you know that also sings along with whatever’s on the radio – and then dances around with his kids – and then posts that sing-along to his Instagram account? 🙂

Turnt all the way up because life is grrrrrreat!!!

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