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Braves New World: Harold Fox

(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)

For every basketball superstar who marches through high school, college, and professional play without a hiccup, there probably are a few dozen Harold Foxes. Fox is still something of a legend in the Washington area for his play in the 1960s, and he’s one of the best college players in his alma mater’s history. But he left the NBA almost without a trace.

Harold Fox was born in Hyattsville, Maryland, on August 29, 1949. Hyattsville is a suburb of Washington, D.C., located northeast of the nation’s capital and near the University of Maryland. The list of great basketball players to come out of Hyattsville is a long one, mostly because DeMatha High School is located there. That school had the legendary Morgan Wootten as its coach for 46 seasons.

Fox went to Northwestern High School; its biggest star in history probably is Len Bias, the Maryland standout who died shortly after he was taken second in the NBA draft in 1986. Harold is still remembered as one of the best high school players to ever come out of the Washington area.

His first high school was Fairmont Heights in Maryland. Then Prince George’s County changed its policies to allow students to attend the high school closest to their homes, throwing out an old rule that was left over from segregation days. In 1966-67, Fox teamed with Mark Christian, a 6-foot-2 center, at Northwestern in a dynamic combination. The two helped the Wildcats win the Maryland state championship that is still fondly remembered by alumni.

Christian was gone a season later, but Fox wasn’t done winning. Northwestern went on to take a second straight state title in 1968, and Fox was the consensus choice as the player of the year in the Washington area. Harold scored 64 points (41 in the second half) and grabbed 15 rebounds in February of that year in a 103-87 win over Oxon Hill. He was picked on the all-Metropolitan Washington for three straight years. “He was probably the best we ever went against,” Gwynn Park High School coach Larry Gandee said. “He just played with people. He could do anything he wanted to on the basketball court. He’s at the top of the list for me.” By the way, Fox also was the starting quarterback at Northwestern.

Fox obviously was an attraction to college recruiters – including some football coaches - but his grades needed improving, and he headed south to start his college career. The guard landed in the fall of 1968 at Brevard Community College, located on the east coast of Florida near Cocoa. It took no time for Harold to show he could play with anyone in junior college. He averaged 27.7 points per game over 29 games, including a 50- and 51-point game. There he played with 7-footer Pembroke Burrows, who after the season moved on to Jacksonville. The team went undefeated in the regular season and was ranked first in the country. Brevard CC reached the second round of the national tournament in Kansas. Fox had more success as a sophomore at the school, and his grades went up as well to reach transfer standards. Several top schools, including UCLA, were interested.

Fox was called the best junior college prospect in the country by Sports Illustrated, and joined Jacksonville University in the fall of 1970. He couldn’t have picked many programs with a bigger profile at that point. The Dolphins were coming off a memorable run to the NCAA final, losing to UCLA in the championship game. When Fox turned up, Jacksonville still had the 7-2 Artis Gilmore at center and Burrows at forward, so they were well-equipped for more damage in national play in 1970-71.

Guard Rex Morgan had graduated by then, and Fox moved into the starting lineup. The 6-2 guard was second on the team in scoring (19.0) and first in assists (5.9). The Dolphins spent all of the regular season ranked in the top 10 nationally. They were shocked, 74-72, by Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Fox’s streak of 20-point games was snapped at six that day, although he did score 19.

Gilmore was off to the professional ranks the following season, and the great times essentially left with him. Jacksonville never advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament in the next 50 years. Even so, the Dolphins did reasonably well in 1971-72 with a 20-8 record. That included a trip to the semifinals of the NIT, where they lost to Maryland. Fox upped his averages to 20.9 points and 7.0 assists per game, completing a very successful stay at the Florida school. The guard was named to some All-American teams, including the first squad of the Basketball News.

Fox was picked by the Buffalo Braves of the NBA with the second pick in the second round (15th overall) of the 1972 draft. Competition came from the Pittsburgh Condors of the ABA, who picked him at some point in the first five rounds. The Braves won that bidding contest as they signed him to a four-year contract.

The Braves had an interesting collection of guards that season, and there certainly was room for a rookie to break through the logjam and play. It became more wide-open when Mahdi Abdul-Rahman (Walt Hazzard) was waived early in the season. The player that capitalized the most on that chance was Randy Smith, who moved from small forward that season. He and Dick Garrett were the regulars at guard, with Howard Komives and Dave Wohl serving as backups.

Fox couldn’t earn enough playing time to make an impact. The guard made his debut on October 14 against Houston. Six days later, Harold had 10 points on five-for-five shooting in 12 minutes in a loss to the Celtics. Not only did that game mark his first basket in the NBA, but his output was also a career high. The next night, Fox played 18 minutes against Milwaukee, but he went 1 for 6 from the field in a home loss. Fox never played in a game that the Braves won, and outside of the Boston game never shot 50 percent or better.

Along the way, Fox ran into some problems. He and Dick Garrett were at a party on December 10 when the police turned up. They both were arrested along with four others, and two of the other men were charged with marijuana possession. Garrett had been charged with loitering for the purpose of obtaining drugs, and Fox was charged with maintaining a criminal nuisance. Both players were cleared the next day by a justice in Amherst due to lack of evidence. The team issued a statement that said the players were a “victim of circumstance.”

Even so, the Braves opted to waive Fox on December 18, and stopped payment on his contract. The matter eventually was settled in arbitration by the NBA office; Commissioner Walter Kennedy ruled that the team had the right to suspend Fox but had to pay the contract starting the next season. Admittedly, Fox’s hold on a roster spot was a bit shaky at the time of the incident because of his lack of production. It’s easy to wonder, though, why Harold was dropped while Garrett stayed on the roster. Did Garrett’s veteran status help him in that sense? What happened to “victim of circumstance?”

“My contract’s up … and the way they’re doing Harold, I don’t know what will happen,” Garrett said at the time. “I don’t know if the team is trying to make an example of him or trying to get rid of a big contract. … Ever since I was arrested, I’m trying to stay out of trouble … stay away from places that are suspect. … But drugs are trouble.”

What happened to Harold after that? It’s tough to say. We do know that Fox never played in the NBA after that. All that’s left are little nuggets of information. For example, after leaving the Braves, he played two games with the Scranton Apollos in the Eastern Basketball Association. In 1974, Harold was on the roster of the McQuinn’s Sporting Goods team in the James Wood Athletic Club Tournament in Winchester, Virginia. He later headed to Europe. He played for Baumholder, a U.S. Army team in West Germany, in the late 1970s. His name turned up as a participant in the Council of International Sports Military Tournament in North Carolina in 1980. Therefore, a stint in the military appears likely. Otherwise, his actions during most of the past 40 years are generally unknown.

However, we know what’s happening to him now. Fox currently is self-employed for a nonprofit group and living in Bowie, Maryland, according to a Linked-In biography. Little is known about his immediate family. Harold’s granddaughter, Raven, played basketball at Syracuse University from 2017 to 2019. She is the daughter of Harold Fox Jr. and Sherri Wood. Her brother Devin played basketball at St. Francis (Pa.). Harold Sr. also had a brother, Gary.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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