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.
The 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.
Also 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.
During 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.
The 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.
Now 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).
The 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.
The 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.
This 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.
The 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.
The 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.