Dave Popson needed one more NBA game under his belt to qualify for an NBA pension. When the Atlanta Hawks dropped him in training camp, Times-Union reporter Tim Wilkin asked the North Carolina standout if he would return to the Patroons (who still had his CBA rights). Popson, who had spent parts of the last two seasons with Albany, kidded that he would "rather play in Albania than in Albany."
Popson eventually signed with Albany for the 1991-92 season, but soon he and another Albany prospect, Marc Brown, spent most of the game on the bench. And on December 17, 1991, Popson quit the Patroons, looking for a team in Spain.
Spain was not interested, however, and Popson later signed with another CBA team, the Birmingham Bandits. Averaging ten points per game in five contests, Popson helped push the Bandits to first place in the Eastern Division, and was now ready to face his old squad.
When the starting players were announced that night, the visiting Birmingham Bandits received the usual scattered courtesy applause from the 4,500 people in the stands. Then Dave Popson's name was announced as a starter. Popson, sporting a new goatee, took the court.
In the entire history of the Albany Patroons, players who ended up on other teams were treated to standing ovations upon their return to the Armory or the Knick. But this time, the fans remembered Popson's "Albania" comment. They remembered how Popson tried to effectuate damage control, stating that "Albany has the best chicken wings in the CBA." They also remembered that Popson walked off the team rather than improve his game under Charley Rosen.
They remembered and they booed. They booed long, they booed loud. Some fans in the upper deck contemptuously shouted "Poptart! Poptart!" at Popson. It was the loudest outcry since 1988, Mississippi's Ken Bannister broke Scott Roth's nose during a playoff game.
They booed every time Popson scored a basket, drew a foul, even when he touched the ball. But as the game progressed, the howls dissipated - the fans noticed that Dave Popson was actually an adequate basketball player who just got tired of riding the bench for Charley Rosen. Popson even got some mild applause in the fourth quarter after he made a difficult shot in double coverage.
But the Patroons weren't going to let this game get out of hand. Starting guard Kenny Travis scored 30 points, fully healed from a wrist injury he suffered in December. "I've been icing it regularly," Travis told the Gazette. "It isn't tiring out on me anymore."
Travis' backup, Mark Tillmon, picked up 16 points in only his second game since being signed by the Patroons from the bankrupt Bakersfield Jammers. And Jeff Sanders, who usually played 60 minutes of a 48-minute game, scored 17 clutch points to pull the Patroons ahead in the third quarter.
During the fourth quarter, the boo birds found somebody else to heckle - referee Louis Grillo. Grillo had issued a second technical foul on Albany for using an illegal defense. One of the spectators at press row, a big fan of Marc Brown since Brown's Siena days, called to Grillo, "Derrick Rowland was guarding his man, he was only a foot off him."
Grillo stopped the game, walked over to the press table, and asked the fan, "Are you with the team?"
"No, I'm just a fan."
"Well, you're not a fan here," snarled Grillo.
The fan, Siena basketball coach Mike Deane, a man who an illegal defense when he saw one, decided not to make a scene and left press row. "I'm glad he didn't say he was with the team," Charley Rosen told the Gazette's Mike MacAdam, "or we would have gotten a technical."
Albany finally won the game, 109-101, and the six points in the standings pulled them closer to Birmingham and Grand Rapids in the playoff hunt. As for Dave Popson, the former Patroon finally qualified for his NBA pension. As the CBA season wound down, the Milwaukee Bucks signed Popson to a 10-day contract.
Collier 2-4 0-0 4, Henry 3-9 7-7 14, Popson 7-12 1-2 15, Johnson 5-11 4-5 14, Farmer 11-25 11-12 34, Hollis 5-12 0-0 10, Cutright 2-9 0-0 4, Allen 2-3 2-2 6. Totals: 37-85 25-28 101.
Sanders 8-17 1-1 17, Travis 9-12 10-10 30, Wright 4-7 4-6 12, Hilliard 4-7 7-10 15, Brown 1-1 0-0 3, Tillmon 4-8 8-8 16, Rowland 2-5 1-2 5, Bannister 2-3 3-8 7, Jeffries 0-2 0-0 0, Lewis 2-3 3-8 7. Totals 36-65 34-45 109.
BIRMINGHAM 26-27-21-27 101 1 ALBANY 26-27-26-30 109 6Three-point goals: Farmer, Henry, Brown, Travis 2. Rebounds: Birmingham 40 (Farmer 11), Albany 42 (Sanders 12, Wright 10). Assists: Birmingham 22 (Farmer 6, Johnson 6); Albany 19 (Sanders 5). Total fouls: Birmingham 32; Albany 25. Technical fouls: Birmingham (illegal defense 2); Albany (illegal defense 2); Travis (unsportsmanlike conduct). Flagrant Foul: Henry. A-4,444.
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