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  • Budd Bailey

Braves New World: Mike Lynn

(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.)

Mike Lynn was lucky enough to play with some of the greatest names in basketball for a few years. Alas, when he arrived to play for the Buffalo Braves, the great players and good times came to a sudden conclusion.

Michael Edward Lynn was born on November 25, 1945, in Covina, California. That city is a suburb of Los Angeles, 22 miles to the east of the downtown area. Mike grew up there and attended Covina High School, one of three such schools within the city limits. The Colts had a few future pro athletes play for them, including football’s Tommy Haynes and baseball’s Don Rose. However, Lynn appears to be the only basketball player to reach the pro ranks.

Lynn was named as the Most Valuable player of the Covina Christmas Tournament as a junior in 1961. That was considered one of the top invitationals of its kind in California for many years. He was an all-conference pick for the Colts. The forward must have been a standout player, because he attracted the attention of UCLA just down the road. The Bruins were good at that point (20-9, conference champions, NCAA tournament), but not quite legendary.

Mike watched UCLA become national champions for the first time in school history in 1964. The next year, Lynn was on the roster as a sophomore – and the Bruins repeated. Mike was part of the playing rotation, averaging 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Gail Goodrich (24.8 ppg) was the standout on that roster. UCLA failed to make it three in a row in 1965-66, although Lynn wound up as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 16.8 and 10.3 respectively. Perhaps all of the team sensed better days were ahead, though. The varsity – ranked first in the nation in preseason polls - lost an exhibition game to the freshmen, 75-60. The first-year players were led by Lew Alcindor (he later took the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), who wasn’t eligible to play on the varsity.

Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of his class helped give UCLA another championship in 1967, but Lynn wasn’t around to see it. He had been arrested shortly before the start of the season on suspicion of forgery. Lynn eventually was convicted and suspended for the entire season. Abdul-Jabbar wrote about the incident in a Sports Illustrated article late in 1969:

“Mike Lynn had gotten in some credit card trouble, and the athletic department disciplined him by not letting him play his senior year. Until then, Mike had had the typical white-American attitude. He didn't run around calling people n----- or anything like that, but you could see that he definitely thought in a stereotyped manner. But when he got into trouble with the law and with the school, he became sort of an outcast, and it shaped him up fast. Now he knew what it was like to be barred from the Establishment, just like a black athlete; overnight he had become a minority race, and so he kind of drifted toward our little black group, and we got to know him well. He turned out to be a real man. He learned fast, and he lost his prejudices almost overnight. Mike Lynn is a great object lesson in how fast a white man can see the truth, provided he will listen.”

In the spring of 1967, the San Francisco Warriors of the NBA drafted Lynn in the fifth round, while the Anaheim Amigos of the ABA took him somewhere in the first five rounds (the exact pick was not disclosed). He opted not to turn pro, and he stayed in Westwood. His return to the team only added depth to a remarkable squad. The Bruins went 29-1 on their way to another title in 1968; the loss came in the famous matchup with Houston in the Astrodome. Lynn chipped in during the season by averaging 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. “Mike Lynn didn't have power, but he had as fine a pair of hands around the boards as I have ever seen," Wooden once said.

The 6-foot-7 forward therefore had entered a selected group of players that had won two NCAA championships. Lynn left as the 10th-leading scorer in UCLA history. He was now ready to try his luck in the pros, and he was picked in the fourth round by the Chicago Bulls in the spring of 1968. Lynn opted not to sign with the Bulls that summer, and played in Italy over that winter. However, the Lakers still remembered him from his UCLA days. Los Angeles gave up a third-round draft choice to the Bulls to obtain him on September 9, 1969.

If Lynn thought he had seen star power in college, he received an education when he arrived at the Lakers’ training camp. Wilt Chamberlain had joined Jerry West and Elgin Baylor via an offseason trade with Philadelphia, giving the Lakers three of the biggest names in the sport’s history. Lynn joined them and made the roster, participating in 44 games that season. Mike averaged 2.0 points per game. Lynn did make an appearance for a minute in Game Six of the NBA finals, when Los Angeles blew out the New York Knicks. But the Lakers lost Game Seven – remembered mostly for Willis Reed’s dramatic appearance at the start of the game - and the championship, with the last game of the playoffs taking place on May 7.

Mike didn’t have much time to grieve over the loss. Four days later, the Buffalo Braves selected him in the Expansion Draft. The Braves also took his teammate, Dick Garrett. About 2,500 miles later, Lynn found himself on the training camp roster of the Braves. There were no stars on the team at that point, which in theory gave him the chance to earn some playing time.

However, Mike couldn’t move up into the rotation. He did play in the team’s opener, a home game on October 14 against Cleveland. Lynn only played three minutes, missing one shot. The expansion teams were allowed to keep extra players around early in that season to give them time to sort out the roster. Lynn, though, always was at the end of the bench. His biggest night for playing time was on October 27, when he played 10 minutes and scored five points. Lynn’s fifth and final game for Buffalo was on November 11 against Atlanta, when he scored his final basket as an NBA player.

There’s no formal mention about Lynn’s departure, but it’s easy to guess he was caught in the mandated roster reduction and waived. He scored 126 points in two NBA seasons, all but seven of them for Los Angeles. However, he apparently wasn’t too impressed by Buffalo as a city. Steve Patterson, who knew Lynn through the UCLA connection, had this comment when he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1971.

“I don't know about Cleveland weather and I don't have any friends in the Midwest, but I prefer Cleveland far and way to what I've heard from Dick Garrett and Mike Lynn (of the Buffalo Braves) about Buffalo," Patterson said. "I don't think Cleveland is that bad a town."

According to a newspaper report, Lynn did receive a tryout with the Utah Stars in the fall of 1973. However, he did not play in a regular season game with the ABA team. There is no available information on Lynn’s situation since leaving basketball.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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