Remembering Bob Kauffman

bob-kauffmanWhen the Los Angeles Clippers open their first game at home this season, I want them to pause and celebrate their original franchise player: Bob Kauffman, the team’s all-star center for its first three seasons, when they were the Buffalo Braves.

In fact, I think the team should retire Bob’s jersey, #44. For the ceremony the team should also bring out his four daughters, all of whom were also basketball stars: Lara and Joannah at Georgia Tech, Carey at Duke and Kate at Clayton State. Bob died on July 27 at age 69.

Bob was an amazing player to watch, a privilege I enjoyed often as fellow student at Guilford College. Guilford was nowhere before Bob arrived and a powerhouse by the time he left. Same went for the Braves.

At 6-8 and 240, Bob was a big guy, but he played bigger. Here’s what Guilford wrote about him a couple days ago:

Kauffman scored 2,570 points on 64 percent field-goal shooting and collected 1,801 rebounds in his 113-game career, all current school standards. He also holds Guilford marks for career scoring average (22.7 ppg.), single-game rebounds (32), single-season rebounds (698, 1967-68), career rebounding average (15.9), career field goals (943), single-season field goal percentage (.712, 1967-68), single-season free throws (273, 1966-67), career free throws (684) and single-season free-throw attempts (344, 1966-67).

Great stats, but none suggest how tough and intimidating Bob was as a player. I remember watching one Braves game against the Celtics on TV, pleased when the announcer said Bob was the only center in the NBA who knew how to play Boston’s Dave Cowens, straight up. Amazingly, I just found an account of what followed, in 30 Things About Dave Cowens:

…he slugged Guilford’s Bob Kauffman, appropriately nicknamed “Horse,” at the foul line, then patiently waited for Kauffman to swing back. Kauffman hit Cowens so hard Cowens finished the game wearing an eye patch.

And yet he was totally generous: a consummate team player. I remember Bob McAdoo’s first game with the Braves, against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Bob grabbed an offensive board he could have put right back in; but instead he kicked it out to the rookie, so the kid could get off his first pro shot.

Bob’s pro career started as what today we’d call a lottery pick: he was taken third in the 1968 draft by the Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) behind future Hall-of-Famers Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. But the Sonics didn’t know what to do with Bob. Nor did the Chicago Bulls, where he played the next year.

Then Bob got lucky. Thanks to various trades and player shufflings, he landed with the Buffalo Braves, an expansion team, for their inaugural season. The fit was perfect. Here’s Jerry Sullivan in The Buffalo News:

In the Braves’ first season of 1970-71, Kauffman averaged 20.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He averaged 18.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in ’71-72 and 17.5 points and 11.1 rebounds in ’72-73. He made the Eastern all-stars in all three seasons for Buffalo teams that lost 60 games.

As his daughter Lara put it to Jerry, Bob left his heart in Buffalo:

“The Buffalo fans from all over, people who moved to Atlanta or wherever I go, they all remember my dad,” Lara Kauffman said. “What people remembered about my dad was he played very blue-collar. I think he was sort of a reflection of a lot of people in the Buffalo community the way he played. He wouldn’t back down from anybody. He played against Lew Alcindor at the time. He matched up against Wilt Chamberlain. My dad would go head-to-head with those guys.

“He was undersized. He was 6-8 and played a face-up game. But because he was so physical, oftentimes he would match up against the toughest player. He would go toe-to-toe with them. I think his style of play reflected Buffalo a lot. He was a hard-working player. Every timeout, he ran off the court. He was the first to the bench.

“He tried to set a good example of hard work and play,” his daughter added. “If my dad had a late night the night before with the guys, he was up at 5 a.m. running six miles. He never stopped. He was just a committed athlete. He was also a gentleman. He would sign autographs. He had all the patience in the world with the fans. They were important to him. He never treated people as second-class. He always had time for them.”

And that’s how I remember him as well. Back at Guilford, there wasn’t a bigger man on campus than Bob, yet he was sweet and friendly with everybody.

Bob’s career as a player was sadly short. Hip problems forced him to retire at 28, from the Atlanta Hawks. After that he coached the Detroit Pistons for a year and then returned to the Hawks’ front office before leaving the game for other work. (If memory serves, Bob was the GM for Detroit when they hired Dick Vitale as coach.)

My favorite testimony to Bob’s value as a player was uttered by his coach at Guilford, Jerry Steele. After Guilford’s play-by-play announcer told Jerry that Catawba College guard Dwight Durante (“the best 3-point shooter you never saw“) appeared that week in a Sports Illustrated piece, Jerry replied, in his usual slow drawl, “Well, Dwight Durante may have his picture in Sports Illustrated, but I’ve got Bob Kauffman’s picture in my bedroom.”

The announcer was Carl Scheer, known today as a legendary NBA executive, former GM of the Carolina Cougars, Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers and Charlotte Hornets — and the inventor of the Slam Dunk Contest, among other distinctions. If it weren’t for Bob, Carl might still be a lawyer in Greensboro. Suzanne Dietzel in Greater Charlotte Business:

After a respectable run in undergraduate college basketball and baseball, Scheer graduated from Marquette Law School and began a career in a small law firm in Greensboro. After realizing that his desire to litigate cases would likely be unrealized due to the size of the firm, he visited Guilford College and asked to be slated to broadcast basketball and football games – a passion he had indulged in graduate school.

Scheer had made fast friends with many in the sports community when opportunity knocked. According to Scheer, “Guilford was embarking upon an aggressive, small college basketball campaign, largely driven by star player, Bob Kauffman. I had announced his college career, and once he found himself in demand by two competing leagues, he asked me to represent him for his contract negotiations.”

Scheer elaborates, “In 1968, agents were unheard of. Knowing I was a lawyer, Bob asked me to represent him.” He jokes, “I am sure I left the poor guy quite a bit of money on the table! But, really, the experience introduced me into the world of sports and business; I was hooked.”

Not surprisingly, his work ethic and comfortable personality helped to foster a good rapport with team owners, and he was asked to interview for the position of assistant to the commissioner of the NBA.

Recalls Scheer, “The NBA commissioner at the time, Walter Kennedy, told me after my third interview that he liked me and thought I was a great candidate, but the job was going to ‘the other guy.’ At the time I was content with that. I had had that 15 minutes of glory and was happy to go back to my small North Carolina law firm. But months later he called back and told me the other candidate declined the position, and asked if I would like to be reconsidered. It was a dream come true. I moved to New York and began my indoctrination into the game. There, my sports career started.”

The best lives have the best consequences. I’d like one of Bob’s to be a celebration of his place as the Clippers founding all-star — who also happened to be a four-star dad.




  1. Barry Bourassa’s avatar

    Thanks for your remembrance of Bob. I haven’t thought about him for a long time. We lived thru an amazing sports era at Guilford.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Barry. Indeed it was.

  3. Robert Goodwin’s avatar

    Grew up and still live in Bufalo. Loved watching Bob play, and pretending to be him in my driveway. It’s also time to bring the Clippers to Buffalo for a game and honor the old Braves like Bob and MacAdoo and the other early stars. He never gave an inch to the bigger centers he played against. RIP to him and condolences to his family. Thanks for the article.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Robert. That’s a great idea. Also, perhaps, a good time and place for the Clippers to retire Bob McAdoo’s jersey as well. (While I’d love to see that happen for Bob Kauffman, Bob McAdoo was a hall of fame player with a long career, and could hardly be more deserving.)

  5. Lara Kauffman’s avatar

    Thank you so much, Doc, for your thoughtful and generous article on my father. You captured the very essence of who he was. Dad’s mission was to put the Buffalo Braves on the map through his play and by winning the hearts and minds of his community. He loved Buffalo, and Guilford equally so.

  6. Kate (Kauffman) Wright’s avatar

    Thank you for the wonderful article/blog. This is such a great recognition of my Father and I know he would have been appreciative of your kind words. He set a great legacy before my sisters and I in the game of basketball and through his kind deeds within the community, many of which we were unaware of until friends and family shared them with us in the light of his passing. I still can’t believe he’s gone but am so grateful that his spirit will live on through the wonderful memories we’ve all shared with him.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hi, Lara and Kate. I am so glad this post meets with your approval. Please let me know if there is anything more I can do, and feel free to feed me additional information about your dad that I can add to the post, or to subsequent ones. He was a great guy and a great player, and deserves far more recognition that he has received so far. My best to the whole family.

  8. Carey Kauffman’s avatar

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and insightful tribute to my father. He would have been both honored and humbled. I was born in Buffalo during what ended up being one of the happiest eras of his life – hands down. He would certainly get my vote as the founding all-star! 🙂 I hope we can meet one day, Doc Searls.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Carey. My pleasure. Hope we get to meet too, perhaps when the Clippers do the right thing for your dad.

    BTW, I’m an old Duke fan too. (Got into ’em when I worked there back in the ’70s.) 🙂

  10. Junn Park’s avatar

    Doc, I work for the Guilfordian student newspaper here at Guilford. I am an avid basketball fan, but I did not know of Bob Kauffman until I came to Guilford. I guess I know only more of the current era basketball players.

    Anyways, this tribute was extremely well written and gave much insight on what a person Kauffman was. Our newspaper wants to produce an article in rememberance of Kauffman’s life, his achievements, and his legacy.

    Is there anything you would like to say current Guilford students of Kauffman’s legacy? Is there any more information that you can give me?

    You can contact me at my email. Thank you so much for your time.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hi, Junn.

    I’ll say more by email, but I’ll just add here that Bob Kauffman, more than any other player, put Guilford College on the basketball map. While Guilford didn’t win a national championship while Bob was there, it came close, and Bob was the main reason. No Guilford player has been drafted higher than Bob, who went third in the first round in 1968. Other great players followed in later years. Lloyd (now World B.) Free and M.L. Carr were both on the 1973 national championship team, but World went #23 and M.L. went #76. So it’s not hard to make the case that Bob was the greatest Guilford basketball player — and perhaps the greatest Guilford athlete — of all time.

  12. Cliff Miller’s avatar

    Hi Doc,
    I have been looking for tributes to Bob and this is the best one I have found. Thank you so much for this. I grew up in Buffalo and loved basketball – was so excited when the Braves arrived. Bob was my hero and I greatly admired his hard work and that he never backed down from bigger players, and wound up outplaying them. My future wife and I were there in the rafters in the famous game against the then Lou Alcindor. What a performance! We were very fortunate to have him represent us. I was so saddened to hear of his passing and wish I could pass on my condolences to his family but have no addresses. If they see this, please know that Bob’s work and attitude made a huge impact on me. He was a special man.

  13. Junn Park’s avatar

    Thank you for the information and for replying to my comment, Doc.

  14. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Cliff. Yours is a great tribute as well, and I am sure his family will see it. I also hope the Clippers do too. It’s important for them to realize how big a star they had with Bob in their founding years.

    By the way, your surname reminds me that one of the people I wanted to call on for help reaching out to the Clippers was Van Miller the brilliant announcer who called the teams’ games on WBEN radio (which amazingly came in at night where I lived at the time in Northern New Jersey). Alas, he died just a few days before Bob. We’re losing too many great ones.

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