(Born on January 15, 1951) -- Let’s think of Ernie DiGregorio as the “comet” of the Buffalo Braves. He appeared after a time, displayed some brilliance and inspired awe, and then faded to black.
“Ernie D” was a great story for a while. He came out of North Providence High School, winning a state championship in 1968. That earned him a ticket to Providence College, where it was a true case of a hometown boy making good. DiGregorio was brilliant for the Friars, helping them reach the Final Four and setting off a bidding war for his services when he was ready to turn pro in 1973.
The Braves won that competition, and DiGregorio settled in as a starting guard right away. He was the trigger man for such players as Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith on the fast break, showing his tremendous ballhandling skills on a nightly basis. Buffalo made the playoffs that year, and DiGregorio was the NBA’s rookie of the year.
It looked like he’d be even better in 1974-75, but he suffered a serious knee injury early in that season. Thanks to Seventies medical techniques, he was never the same player. DiGregorio stayed through 1977, and was traded to the Lakers. From there it was on to the Celtics, where his last NBA game was the Braves’ last NBA game in the spring of 1978.
DiGregorio eventually ended up working at a casino in Connecticut, and some of his awards are on display. Hopefully he still has a parade of people telling him how much fun he was to watch when he was at his peak.
--- Budd Bailey