Over their long history, the Albany Patroons won two CBA championships, sent dozens of players to the NBA, and created one of the most dedicated fan bases in minor league basketball. Local fans cared if the team played against the Bay State Bombardiers or the Tampa Bay Thrillers; they wanted the Pats to beat the Quad City Thunder and the Rockford LIghtning.
The 1992-93 Capital Region Pontiacs tore all that down.
After the 1992 season, the Albany Patroons were hemorrhaging money, and team owner Joe O'Hara looked for any possible revenue stream. Moving the team to the Knickerbocker Arena may have increased attendance, but putting 5,000 people in an arena built for 16,000 means 11,000 seats are left unused. Eventually O'Hara came up with a solution - in exchange for an influx of money from the area's local Pontiac dealerships, he agreed to change the name of the Patroons to the Capital Region Pontiacs.
It was a move that turned into a public relations nightmare. Although other minor league squads contained corporate sponsorship in their name - including one of the Patroons' opponents, the Coors-sponsored Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets - this was one of the first times where a team itself had been renamed. For the Patroons fans, it was akin to christening the Yankees as the New York Microsofts.
It was just as big a nightmare for the CBA, who had already printed the 1992-93 CBA media guide, with the team still listed as the Patroons. Some of the teams balked at the corporate renaming of the Patroons, threatening to call them by their original nickname on road trips.
The Pontiacs also had a problem on the court as well. CBA teams not only had to deal with NBA call-ups of their talent, but also European call-ups - a CBA coach, for example, might discover his star forward just signed a contract to play professional basketball in Turkey, at three times the price of a CBA paycheck. Michael Curry, one of the Pontiacs' top players, eventually signed with an Italian league team, just as the team was headed for a tough road trip. The Pontiacs eventually made do with whatever players they could acquire, including well-traveled Brook Steppe, and 7'7" Chuck Nevitt, nicknamed the "Human Victory Cigar" because teams only put the poor-shooting center on the court in mop-up situations. Even their coach, former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey, couldn't keep the team winning, and he was replaced in February 1993 by Jim Price.
The CBA also changed since the Patroons joined the league in 1982. Back then, road trips were often by bus or van (legend has it that Patroons coach Phil Jackson once drove the team bus to a road game). But with the Pontiacs' closest opponents in Fort Wayne, Columbus and Grand Rapids, every road game was a series of non-direct commercial air flights.
And to top it all off, the local media suddenly treated the Pontiacs with the same attention as relatives waiting for a grandparent to die so that the will can be administered. Television stations filmed the empty upper deck of the Knickerbocker Arena before showing the team's highlights. One station went so far as to have its sports reporter sit in the highest seat in the upper deck - only to discover a "fan" planted in his seat. One radio station even created a goof recording of the sounds at a Pontiacs game - a basketball bouncing on the floor and crickets chirping.
Still, the Pontiacs gave their heart and soul to the 3,000 fans who still showed up, even with rumors of the team's eventual sale - or relocation - or closure. The fans were indeed worried - just a few years earlier, the International Hockey League's Albany Choppers shut down in the middle of their inaugural season; and the Albany Capitals of the American Professional Soccer League, despite reaching the championship game in 1991, could not finance or field a team for the next season. Even at the time of the Pontiacs' final home game, a victory over the Quad City Thunder, the franchise still had a mathematical possibility of reaching the playoffs. A season-ending six game road trip dashed those hopes.
By the 1993-94 season, the team once known as the Albany Patroons moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and played the next season as the Hartford Hellcats. Eventually that team folded after two seasons in the Nutmeg State.