Long before the Albany Patroons were a gleam in Jim Coyne's eyes, New York State had another CBA powerhouse franchise - the Rochester Zeniths. Like the Patroons, they played their games under unorthodox conditions - they didn't have an Armory, but their home court at Henrietta's Dome Arena was covered with a green carpet. Former Zeniths coach Mauro Panaggio recalled the surface for the Rochester Times-Union. "Our carpet had very good traction, but it was strange because you got a muffled 'thump' when the ball was dribbled. Teams were psyched out before we even started the games. We had quite a distinct advantage."
Enough of an advantage in 1978 to win 23 straight games at home - the longest home unbeaten streak in the CBA. But when some former members of the Zeniths' booster club heard that another New York team was threatening to surpass that record, they put together a plan. Former team statistician Bill Flynn acquired some sections of that green carpet, took some scissors to it, and put it in an envelope for Albany.
When staffers at the Patroons front office opened the package, inside was the tattered, soiled carpet from the Dome Arena. Carved into the fabric, in block letters - L-O-S-E. The "hex" was on.
Albany already had enough trouble. One of their top scorers, Vince Askew, was shuttling back and forth between the basketball court and a court of law, trying to get out of a restrictive contract with an Italian League team. Mario Elie got picked up by the Golden State Warriors on a 10-day contract - a ten-day that turned into a permanent NBA job. And Clinton Smith, recently cut by the Washington Bullets, wasn't returning to Albany any time soon. But that didn't stop the Patroons from beating Pensacola 148-134 for Win #22, or trouncing Tulsa 150-105 for Win #23. All they had to do now was beat the Grand Rapids Hoops in the Knickerbocker Arena and the record was theirs.
But there was still the matter of that stained carpet.
A Hollywood agent once wrote, "The best way to beat a publicity stunt is with a bigger publicity stunt." The Zeniths boosters wanted to place a hex on Albany, fine. The Pats held a press conference, allowing the Capital District media to witness an ersatz "hexologist" intone some magic words and remove the hex from the soiled fabric.
That night, some men George Karl signed to replace Elie and Smith played like world-beaters against Grand Rapids. Terry Stotts, who had been hired as Karl`s assistant coach, strapped on the sneakers one more time, scoring 13 points. Keith Smith, who toiled in Yakima earlier in the season, picked up seven assists. Former San Jose Jammer Richard Morton zipped in 13 points. And ex-Laker Tony Brown drained 19 points in his third (and final) game for the Pats, before the Utah Jazz brought him back to the NBA.
The big effort that night came from Jeff Sanders. He and Coach George Karl had not seen eye to eye on many things, including Sanders' tenure in Albany. But after returning from a 10-day Charlotte Hornets contract, Sanders' attitude improved dramatically. Sanders was high man for Albany, with 24 points and eight rebounds. "I'm working on trying to get it back together," Sanders told the Troy Record. "It's going pretty well."
And when Karl shifted Vince Askew to point guard, the 6'6" Memphis State standout went around Cedric Toney so many times Toney should have held out his hand for tolls. In fact, both the Schenectady Gazette and Troy Record ran different photos of Askew zooming around a confused Toney.
As the game ended and the fans cheered, one statistical hurdle had been breached, hex or no hex. With five home games left in the regular season, it was now up to the Patroons to win all five - and be the first professional basketball team, NBA or CBA, to post a perfect home winning record.
A final word on the "hex." A few days after the media-scheduled "incantation," Metroland's Mike Goudreau caught up with the Pats' Vince Askew. When asked how the players felt being "hexed," Vince summed it up as best he could.
"#&@! the hex," said Askew.
Draper 4-10 3-3 11; Blanton 0-3 0-0 0; Cavenall 8-11 1-3 17; Kimbrough 2-6 0-0 4; Fox 3-7 2-4 8; McArthur 6-7 5-7 17; Toney 3-10 0-0 7; Lee 3-11 5-7 11; Taylor 9-13 3-6 24; Austin 6-8 1-2 14. Totals 44-86 20-32 113.
Stotts 4-6 4-4 13; Brown 9-16 0-1 19; Sanders 12-13 0-0 24; Askew 7-8 4-4 18; Morton 5-14 3-4 13; Harris 2-4 6-7 10; Graham 3-8 0-0 6; King 8-12 0-0 16; Smith 3-6 2-2 8; Fryer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 53-87 19-22 127.
GRAND RAPIDS 24-29-26-34 113 1 ALBANY 27-30-29-31 127 63-point goals - Taylor 3, Toney, Austin, Brown, Stotts. Rebounds: Grand Rapids 30 (Draper 6), Albany 46 (Askew 10). Assists: Grand Rapids 19 (Toney 6), Albany 33 (Smith 7). Total fouls - Grand Rapids 22, Albany 29. Technical fouls - Albany (illegal defense 3). A-3,148.
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