Before Kobe, Before LeBron, There Was Randy Smith : The Two-Way As the NBA finals get underway, the city of Buffalo has lost one of its basketball giants -- Randy Smith.
NPR logo Before Kobe, Before LeBron, There Was Randy Smith

Before Kobe, Before LeBron, There Was Randy Smith

Last night's opening of the NBA championship wasn't the Kobe vs. LeBron matchup that many had drooled over. Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers are in the finals but LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers are gone. Gone, courtesy of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.

And while last night's result — a blowout Lakers victory — may have caused some to turn off the TV earlier than expected, it still could prove to be an exciting series, especially if Kobe and Howard have spectacular performances.

But before L.A. had its Kobe, and before Cleveland had its LeBron — well before, in fact — there was a basketball love affair between the city of Buffalo, N.Y., and Randy Smith.

Smith was a brilliant point guard who played college ball at Buffalo State and then went to the Buffalo Braves — a team that became the San Diego Clippers in 1978. Under Coach Jack Ramsay, Smith played on a team with Bob McAdoo, Gar Heard and Jim McMillian. They never came close to winning a championship, but they were embraced by Buffalo in the early '70s. But as the team lost coaches and players, they also lost fans — and by the late '70s, the team was desperately looking to escape Buffalo.

Randy Smith died yesterday, of a heart attack while working out on his treadmill. He was 60 years old. He never made it to the Hall of Fame, or the NBA finals, and he really can't be mentioned in the same breath as Kobe or LeBron or Michael or Magic or Larry.

But to the city of Buffalo, he was everything. And he played his heart out for them.

Tim Wendel, writing on the Braves' World blog, noted that

Nobody loved the Braves and nobody loved Buffalo more than Smith. After starring as a soccer player at Buffalo State, the basketball Braves drafted him in the seventh round of 1971 draft. After working on his jump shot and then thrilling fans with his two-handed slam dunks in the preseason, he surprisingly made the NBA team.

From there he continued to raise his game until he became an All-Star. Randy came off the bench to score 27 points in the 1978 NBA All-Star Game (the Braves' last year in Buffalo) and took home the MVP award. He played 12 seasons in the NBA — a record 906 games — and never missed a game.

You can see him in action here: