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Braves' New World: Mike Macaluso

(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.)

The Buffalo Braves frequently selected local players in the NBA draft, if only to receive some good publicity by inviting a local product to training camp. The best example of this was the seventh-round pick used on Randy Smith out of Buffalo State. Mike Macaluso wasn’t in that class, but he did spend a season on an NBA roster. That remains quite an accomplishment. No matter what Mike has done since his playing days ended – and he’s been successful by any standard – he’ll be remembered for his time with the Braves.

Michael E. Macaluso was born July 20, 1951, in Buffalo. Michael grew up in the Queen City. He attended Hutchinson Central Technical High School located on Elmwood Avenue in downtown Buffalo. The school was founded in 1904 and was one of the world’s first high schools with a digital computer, an IBM 1620, in 1961. Several Hutch-Tech graduates from the 1960’s became pioneers in computing with the best known being astronomer and computer security expert Clifford Stoll. Macaluso is the only athlete from Hutch Tech to play professionally.

During the course of Macaluso’s junior and senior seasons, Hutch Tech put together a 35-game winning streak that was finally snapped by Buffalo East on February 18, 1969 by a 72-60 score. In his junior season, Hutch Tech finished the season undefeated. Mike was one of the first players of the bench as a junior, and became a starter in his senior season.

Macaluso graduated in June 1969 from Hutch Tech. He was offered several basketball scholarships, but chose to stay close to home and attend Canisius College. Mike enrolled for the fall semester of 1969. He played for the freshman basketball team during the 1969-1970 season. “Mike Macaluso has shown me great hustle. His desire gives us good rebounding strength,” Dave Markey, Canisius freshman coach, said. Mike joined the varsity and head coach Bob MacKinnon at the start of the 1970-71 campaign, but missed the Golden Griffins’ first two games with a broken hand suffered in a preseason scrimmage. He made his collegiate debut on December 19, 1970, in a 91-81 win over the University of Baltimore. He scored four points in the victory. Coming off the bench on December 29 in the consolation game of the Queen City Tournament, he showed the coaches what he could do as he scored 7 points to lead the Griffs to an 83-74 win over Morehead State. Macaluso broke into the starting lineup early in 1971 and had his best game of the season with 23 points in leading Canisius to a 98-87 win over Xavier on February 20. Canisius finished the season with an 8-13 overall record. Macaluso was the Golden Griffins’ leading scorer, averaging 14.5 points per game. He was also third on the team in rebounding average (7.1).

Macaluso began his junior year with a bang as he scored 24 points in a 94-87 win over Wake Forest, and had 27 points in leading Canisius to a school-record 126 points in a victory over Catholic University. Mike missed two games in January with a leg injury but continued his excellent play in February with several 20-point games. The highlight of his season was making the clinching free throw with 13 seconds remaining in a thrilling 73-70 upset of Little Three rival St. Bonaventure. It was his only career win over the Bonnies. For his outstanding play during the second half of the season he was given the title “Magical Mac.”

Many Niagara fans thought that “Magical Mac” was a hot dog, so for the Golden Griffins’ visit to the Gallagher Center on March 4 many Purple Eagle students brought hot dogs to wag at Macaluso. One student threw a hot dog at Mike, but hit MacKinnon instead. Despite the taunting, Canisius and “Magic Mac” got the last laugh with an 87-77 victory, the Griffins’ first over Niagara since 1969.

The Golden Griffins’ season ended on a controversial call, costing them a win over Xavier. Macaluso was guarding Jerry Helmers of Xavier close in the final seconds. “They stole the game on that last call,” MacKinnon said after the game. “He (Macaluso) had perfect position on him. Helmers was the one that charged. It should have been our chance to shoot.” Canisius lost the game, 68-67, as Helmers sank the game-winning free throw. For the season, Canisius improved to a 15-11 record. Macaluso improved his scoring average to 16.9 points per game and again led the squad. Mike also improved his rebound average to 9.4 per game, third on the team.

MacKinnon left the Golden Griffins at the end of the 1971-72 season, after 14 years as head coach at the school, to join the staff of Jack Ramsey of the NBA’s Buffalo Braves as an assistant coach. He was replaced by John Morrison, a former Canisius basketball star in the late 1960’s.

Macaluso was elected team co-captain and started his senior season similar to the previous year with some big games in December. In one of the highlights of his career he helped lead the Golden Griffins to the Queen City Tournament title with a 91-78 win over Kent State and a 90-79 championship game victory over Murray State. Macaluso and Mike Norwood led all scorers with 20 points in the win over Kent State and Macaluso contributed 15 points in the title game.

Mike had his career high in rebounds with 20 to go along with 21 points in an 80-67 win over Wayne State on January 31, 1973. Less than two weeks later, on February 10, Mike had

his career high in points with 31 in a 74-54 win over Colgate. “Mike Macaluso put on one of the finest one-man shows in the Auditorium this year, sinking 14 of 22 shots and hauling down 18 rebounds en route to a 31-point night,” reported The Griffin. Macaluso led five Canisius players in double figure scoring averages for the season with 16.0 points per game. He finished third on the squad in rebounding with a 9.3 per game average. The Golden Griffins were 13-11 under Morrison, highlighted by two wins over Little Three rival Niagara.

Mike finished his Canisius career having played in 67 games with a 15.9 points per game average and an 8.7 rebounding average. He was eighth on the all-time Canisius scoring list with 1,063 points when he graduated. Mike also became only the ninth Golden Griffins player to exceed 1,000 career points. He was enshrined in the Canisius Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.

Macaluso, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward, was drafted by the Buffalo Braves in the sixth round (No. 88 overall) in the NBA draft on April 24, 1973. He was a tenth-round pick of the rival ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. Mike signed with the Braves on June 22. It was reported that the Colonels offered Macaluso more money than the Braves. Mike asked why the Colonels were so interested in him. The Colonels’ representative replied, “We need a white forward." Macaluso got scared about life in Louisville and signed with the Braves. He joined a Braves team that appeared to be on the verge of a leap forward.

Macaluso was drafted for depth and expected to play a back-up role with the Braves having a strong frontcourt. “He has good leaping ability and shooting range and has the knack of picking up points under the basket. His speed will help him fit into the Braves’ fast break,” the Braves media guide wrote. Mike also tried to help himself to make the team by working and conducting clinics at team owner Paul Snyder’s Darien Lake Resort during the summer of 1973.

Macaluso made the Braves out of training camp, perhaps in part because MacKinnon was familiar with his ability. He made his NBA debut on October 13 in a 125-122 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, scoring three points in two minutes while scoring three points. Macaluso had a hard time getting minutes with this talented Braves team. While Buffalo was much better than it had been in its first three seasons, the lineup didn’t have much room for Macaluso. Mike played in 30 of the team’s 82 games. He played only 112 minutes, an average of 3.7 per game, while scoring 48 points (1.6 ppg). His best game was a 14-minute affair when he scored eight points and snatched four rebounds in a 17-point loss to Chicago. McAdoo was injured and did not play in the game, freeing up some playing time for Macaluso. Mike’s final appearance was on March 26 in a 23-point loss to Houston. He scored six points.

Buffalo finished the season with its first record over .500 at 42-40. The Braves met the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs and lost a hard fought series, 4-2. Mike had the best seat in the house from the bench, but did not see any on court action.

Mike was back at the Braves training camp in September 1974. He participated throughout the camp and played in the Blue-White scrimmage that closed training camp at Geneseo State College. The next day, September 25, he was placed on waivers.

Mike traveled to Europe to keep his pro basketball dreams alive and played in the European Professional Basketball League in 1974 for Israel. His team was coached by Herb Brown and was named the Sabras (Israeli for “cactus”). It finished the season with a 20-10 record. Mike returned to the U.S and signed with the Baltimore Claws of the ABA and reported to training camp on September 24, 1975. Dan Issel, Mel Daniels and former Buffalo Braves teammate Paul Ruffner and future Brave Claude Terry joined Macaluso in the team’s camp. Mike did not last long and neither did the team. Macaluso was gone before the team played its three exhibition games, all losses. Then on October 20 the franchise threw in the towel as the league shutdown the team five days before the start of the regular season. Mike’s pro basketball career was over, and the remaining Claws were dispersed to other ABA clubs via a draft.

Macaluso has had significant business success in the health care industry during the past 30 years. He was the founder and principal of International Printing and Publishing from 1989 to 1997, a company he subsequently sold. He was the owner of Page International Communications from 1998 to 2001 and was President and CEO of Isolagen, Inc. from 2001 to 2005. He then founded DMI Life Sciences, Inc., the predecessor to Ampio Pharmaceuticals, of which he was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer from 2012. It’s in Englewood, Colorado.

Mike died in November 2022.

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