Braves, Royals & nationals: A History of Western New York Basketball, Pt. 1


It may be hard to tell from the current state of affairs in Western New York, but the western edge of the state, far from the metropolis of New York City, was once a fertile and abundant land of basketball. In every major city west of the Hudson River there was a professional basketball team: Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo. Long ago in the infancy of professional basketball in America, before the NBA, teams were located all across the country in smaller cities. In those times Western New York was home to three individual teams. 

Two teams began their careers during the early years of professional basketball in America, before the creation of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The oldest of the three teams is the Rochester Seagrams (Royals), followed by the Syracuse Nationals, and lastly the Buffalo Braves. All of the three teams reached a level of success in their respective Western New York hometowns.

The Rochester Seagrams are by far the eldest of the three teams, with its roots of calling Western New York home going as far back as 1923. The teams made its stay in Rochester until the end of the 1957 season. During these years the team found much success, reaching their pinnacle in the 1951 season when Rochester won the NBA Championship shortly after joining the league when the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) merged in 1949 to create what we know today as the National Basketball Association. The team in Rochester when through many name changes during their life in Western New York. They were originally called the Seagrams from 1923 – 1942, then the Eber Seagrams from 1942 – 1948, and finally the Royals from 1948 – 1957. It was during their Royal years that the teams won their National Championship. 

The same time that the Eber Seagrams-Royals were operating in Rochester, the Syracuse Nationals began to play in the 1946 season, less than one hundred miles away. Of the three teams in Western New York, The Nationals were by far the most successful. The team won the NBA National Championship in 1955 as well as three Conference Titles in 1950, 1954, and 1955. The Nationals played in the NBL until they were absorbed into the NBA in 1949. The last of the three Western New York basketball teams to form was the Buffalo Braves who began their existence as an expansion team in 1970. The team stayed in Buffalo until 1978. The teams found little success in area. The Braves struggled and never won a championship of any kind during their tenure in Buffalo. 

The last time a professional basketball game was played in Western New York was on April 8, 1978. The Buffalo Braves hosted, and lost to the New York Knickerbockers 107 – 118. Buffalo had lost its last game, much like how the Buffalo lost the Braves. When the Braves moved out of town, professional basketball in Western New York was no more. In an area that basketball flourished in, and still does at the collegiate level, the professional game has died. All of the teams that once called the Western New York home migrated to bigger cities and bigger markets as a result of the BAA and NBL merger. All three of these teams still exist today outside of the Empire State. Their starting place unforgotten, the teams expanded westward toward the Pacific. Like the destiny of our country, so was the destiny of basketball. More on that in Part 2.