Written by Chuck Miller

Albany Patroons v. LaCrosse Catbirds
Washington Avenue Armory, Albany, N.Y.
February 24, 1990
Albany's last home game at the Armory

On first impressions, it looks like a fortress guarding the sloped part of Lark Street. Built in 1889, the Washington Avenue Armory was a warehouse for army weapons and supplies. But its large area became suitable for sporting events - especially basketball. The 1920's Albany Senators basketball team won two championships while calling the Armory home. In the 1950's, classic Siena-Niagara contests were common fare at the Armory. By 1981, everybody from the Boston Celtics to the Harlem Globetrotters to closed-circuit boxing matches to professional wrestling cards played in the Armory.

When the Albany Patroons first entered the CBA, most of the teams played in high school or college gymnasiums, and Jim Coyne convinced the league that the Armory could be used for professional basketball. Team stat man Doug Dickinson remembered the Armory this way: "You know how Red Auerbach always turns the heat up in the dressing rooms in the Boston Garden for the visitors? Well, this place was always cold. I would get there three hours before the game and I could see my breath in there. It was a cold building because it's so hard to heat, obviously. If nothing was going on at the Armory during the day, they would turn the heat on at 3:00 in the afternoon. And it took a while to heat the building up."

Charley Rosen remembered the Armory locker rooms when he coached the Savannah Spirits in 1986-87. "Debris on the floor, pipes hanging overhead, there's a hole in one of the windows, and instead of fixing the hole, they put a brick there. There was a brick covering up the hole. And the blackboard that they used was about 2 feet by about a foot and a half, so you didn't have enough room to write the pre-game stuff on there. It was terrible." In Rosen's 1992 novel, The Cockroach Basketball League, one of the fictional ballclubs, the "Capital City Cosmos," play in an Armory strikingly similar to the one at Washington and Lark.

Derrick Rowland remembers two different Armories. "Practice time, it was drafty, cold, creaky. Until game time, then it turned into the Boston Garden. Once the game came, the people filled it up, they started cooking the popcorn over in the corner, and everything just kind of changed. It was a feared place once the game started. It was the Armory, that's where we played. So if we were going to win, we didn't have time to think about the pipes dripping, or no lockers, and that kind of stuff. We knew once we got on the court it was time to take care of business."

By February 1990, the Patroons were ready to move into a new home, the Knickerbocker Arena. But for those who missed the coziness of the Armory, some games were still scheduled when there were date conflicts at the Knick. One game was forced into the Armory because the Moscow Circus was at the Knick - and during halftime, some Russian gymnasts gave the Armory faithful a spectacular halftime show. And the above-dated game between Albany and the LaCrosse Catbirds was forced into the Armory when a monster truck show drove into the Knick.

With four minutes left in the game, Albany clung precariously to a 116-115 lead. Vince Askew intercepted an errant LaCrosse pass, and headed toward the basket with nothing in his way. Suddenly, Askew slipped and fell, the ball bouncing into the stands.

"I was trying to dive after the ball because I lost control of it," Askew told Tim Wilkin of the Times-Union. "No one touched me. I tripped. I guess the ref said, 'Well, Vince couldn't have tripped and fell by himself.'"

And so the ref called Catbird Carlos Clark on a tripping foul. LaCrosse's coach, Flip Saunders, loudly questioned the referee's eyesight. The ref's hearing was fine, and Saunders picked up a technical, which Askew quickly basketed to push Albany ahead, 119-115.

LaCrosse battled back, and was still within striking range with less than two minutes to play. Catbird Tony White shot a jumper in the lane, which Askew swatted away. The ball sailed from Askew's tap to the floor, then bounced out of bounds. Catbird ball, right?

The ref blew his whistle - and awarded possession to the Patroons. Albany took the ball and kept LaCrosse at bay for the rest of the game. Catbird Dwayne McClain told the Times-Union, "It touched the Albany floor. The place is just magic for [the Patroons]."

So what's happened to the Armory since then?

The Empire State Games used the Armory in 1991 and 1992 to host the team handball competititons. The New York Kick soccer team practiced in the Armory, and it was also used as an indoor soccer training facility for youth soccer leagues.

Even today, many long-time Pats fans remember the intimacy, the intricacy, the idiosyncracy of the munitions warehouse at the corner of Washington and Lark Streets. And for many later-year Patroons and Pontiac fans, who first saw games at the Knickerbocker Arena, not watching at least one game in the Armory was akin to not experiencing the Dodgers in Brooklyn or the Celtics after Bill Russell retired.

Clark 3-7 0-0 6, Martin 4-9 6-6 14, Rahilly 8-12 1-2 18, Turner 14-17 8-11 38, White 10-21 3-5 22, McClain 7-11 1-6 15, Hamilton 1-3 4-4 6, McKenna 2-4 0-1 6. Totals 49-84 23-35 126.

Pearson 6-13 2-2 14, Askew 8-22 10-12 26, McDuffie 6-8 1-1 13, Smith 7-10 5-8 19, Elie 5-10 0-0 11, Burtt 9-10 8-11 26, Stroeder 4-6 5-5 13, Queenan 3-6 3-5 9. Totals 48-85 34-44 131.

LaCROSSE 29-33-31-33 126 1
ALBANY   35-31-31-34 131 5
Three-point goals: Turner 2, McKenna 2, Rahilly, Elie. Rebounds - LaCrosse 30 (Rahilly 10), Albany 46 (Askew 13, Stroeder 10). Assists - LaCrosse 22 (Turner 10), Albany 23 (Askew 7). Total fouls - LaCrosse 31, Albany 26. Technicals: Turner (unsportsmanlike conduct), LaCrosse Coach Saunders (unsportsmanlike conduct). A-2,284.
Publisher Malcolm Forbes passed away today. He was 70.
Johnny Ray, who sang "Cry" and "Just Walking In The Rain," passed away today. He was 63.
Former Boston Red Sox slugger and folk hero Tony Conigliaro passed away today. He was 45.

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