Every small town and village has a story about when the major league teams played exhibitions against the local town team or minor league farm club. This was no different in the sport of basketball; in the early days of the sport, many professional teams filled out their schedules with games against local fivesomes.
Schenectady was once home to professional basketball. In his book, Class C Baseball: A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Canadian-American League 1946-1950, Frank Keetz tells how the National Basketball League's Rochester Royals (today's Sacramento Kings) played exhibition games in Schenectady. The Electric City crowd was blessed with Red Holtzman and Bob Davies on their team - a team that even wore "Schenectady" on their uniforms. The "Schenectady" Royals won a local six-team basketball tournament, beating such teams as the New York Rens, Baltimore Bullets and Philadelphia SPHAs.
But what if Albany had the powerhouse team and somebody wanted that squad to play an exhibition game?
In 1991, the Albany Patroons were making mincemeat of the entire CBA. Pittsfield promoter Tom McAndrews placed a phone call to team owner Joe O'Hara, offering O'Hara an exhibition match pitting the Pats against a squad of former CBA players and local college stars. McAndrews had some credentials - he once promoted and coached the Atlantic Basketball League's Pittsfield Shamrocks during the 1980's.
O'Hara talked it over with General Manager Gerald Oliver and Coach George Karl, and agreed that if a date was available, the Patroons would be there.
Worried that fans might perceive this game as the mighty 32-5 Patroons beating up on a rec league five, McAndrews promised plenty of ex-CBA talent on the All-Stars, including former Patroons Lowes Moore and Tim Price. "We've played a number of CBA teams this year with ex-Patroons on the roster," Joe O'Hara told the Berkshire Eagle, "and you can count on them always being fired up to play against us ... The Patroon players won't back off in this game."
O'Hara also had ulterior motives for agreeing to this exhibition game. He had considered purchasing a franchise in either the World Basketball League or the United States Basketball League. If the Patroons-All Star game drew a big enough crowd, he might be able to make money playing one or two exhibition games in Pittsfield with his new summer league team (which became the Empire State Stallions).
Of all the All-Stars, former Patroon Tim Price wanted to settle a score with his old teammates. Unceremoniously dumped by the Patroons two months ago, he desperately wanted a chance to prove his worth. "When I was released from Albany," Price told the Berkshire Eagle, "I went home to Boston and lifted weights and worked out. I didn't know when I was going to get another chance, but I kept playing pickup games and trying to stay in shape. Then I found out [Albany] was interested me again, so we'll see what happens."
But the All-Stars hadn't banked on their opposition. The Albany Patroons of 1991 had the most powerful team ever assembled in gold and kelly green. Vince Askew. Mario Elie. Snoop Graham. Albert King. Willie McDuffie. Tony Brown. Jeff Fryer.
The All-Stars did make a game of it, behind 46-40 in the first quarter. By halftime, Albany had pulled ahead, 98-65. New Patroon Tony Brown flung assist after assist to Willie McDuffie and Leonard Harris. Jeff Fryer released eight three-point shots, hitting each one. Vince Askew slammed home 35 points, leading both teams. The Pats hit so many points that Albert King's eleven points was the lowest among 8 Pats who scored in double figures. After a while, George Karl left the carnage and went into the stands, spending the third and fourth quarters scouting Tim Price and Leroy Witherspoon.
The final score - Albany 205, All-Stars 126. The Patroons pulled no punches, they gave no quarter. For all intents and purposes, Albany could have been facing Grand Rapids or Quad City.
And the 1,700 in attendance that night saw five Patroons on the court who were headed for the NBA in a very short time - Elie, Askew, Graham, King and Brown. And Tim Price did become a Patroon again - he played in the last four games of the 1991-92 season.
The only disappointed person in the group was Mario Elie. Elie starred at Springfield's American International University, so for him this was a homecoming. Unfortunately, his sore knees that night kept him on the bench. But Elie returned to Western Massachusetts another time - while with the Portland Trail Blazers, Elie played in the 1992 Hall of Fame Game.
Better late than never.
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