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Gone Too Soon
BUFFALO — Randy Smith, Buffalo State’s all-time athletic hero and one of the most popular players in Buffalo Braves history, died unexpectedly in Connecticut on Thursday, according to close friends and former college teammates.
Smith, 60, apparently suffered a heart attack, while riding a treadmill at his home in Norwich.
Durie Burns, a teammate of Smith’s at Buffalo State, told The News that he had learned of Smith’s death from Smith’s wife, Angela.
“I was shocked,” said Burns, who now lives in Orange Park, Fla. “My wife and I had been with Randy and his wife at Randy’s mother’s 78th birthday celebration in North Carolina not long ago.”
“Best athlete the college [Buffalo State] ever had. It’s hard to believe that a guy who was such a special athlete could pass away like that,” said Dick Bihr, the former Buffalo State men’s basketball coach and teammate of Smith at the college. “He was a special guy, and, in my era, he was a special athlete. He could do just about everything.”
The former NBA “Iron Man” first came to Buffalo in 1967 to compete in a state high school track meet at Buffalo State. He won the high jump at a state-record 6 feet, 6 inches and was recruited by Buffalo State, where he became an All-American in Division I soccer and on the small college level in basketball and track and field. He led the Bengals to the NCAA College Division Final Four in Evansville, Ind., in 1970.
The Bengals were favored to go back the next year with Burns, an Air Force veteran, joining the team. However, they were upset by Hartwick College in Houston Gym, perhaps the most disappointing men’s basketball loss in Buffalo State history.
“I remember first watching him on the soccer field,” Bihr said. “He just ran by everybody. Soccer wasn’t a big spectator sport, but everybody came just to watch Randy.”
Smith was drafted by the Buffalo Braves in the seventh round in 1971. Coach Johnny McCarthy gave the rookie his first career start as a 6-foot-3 small forward against Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor and the Los Angeles Lakers in Memorial Auditorium.
He didn’t shrink from that challenge and continued to excite Buffalo fans for the next seven seasons before the team moved to San Diego. By the time the Braves left, Smith had scored 10,465 points, surpassing Bob McAdoo’s team record of 9,434. He averaged 24.6 points in the Braves’ final season.
Over a stretch of 12 seasons — a record 906 games — Smith never missed a game in the NBA. The streak began in 1973 with Buffalo and continued until the 1982-83 season during his second stint with San Diego.
He also played with Cleveland, the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks in his NBA career. He scored 16,262 points in 976 NBA games in his career and was the Most Valuable Player of the 1978 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta after he scored 27 points off the bench.
By 1973-74, Smith was one of several stars on an exciting Braves team under Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay.
After his playing career ended, Smith joined the NBA front office as director of player programs. After a few years, he left the league office to coach the Hartford Hellcats team in the Continental Basketball Association in 1995. It was a failed effort.
The easy- going Smith just wasn’t hard-bitten enough to be a coach. A year later he went to work as an executive host for the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., where he remained until his death.
The Randy Smith League, the inner-city youth basketball program he sponsored, carried on in Buffalo after he left the city. He was enshrined in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, the Hall’s second class.
A native of Bellport, on Long Island, Smith is survived by his second wife, Angela, two sons, Brandon and Dominique, and a daughter, Terran.