- Co-founder of American Basketball Association dies
- Dennis Murphy was considered one of the greatest innovators in the history of the sports industry
The Co-founder of the American Basketball Association, Dennis Murphy, and a longtime friend of erstwhile Lakers’ owner Dr Jerry Buss, died on Thursday at age 94.
Sports entrepreneur Dennis Murphy was considered to be one of the greatest innovators in the history of the sports industry and should be in three Halls of Fame – Basketball, Hockey, and Tennis – passed away on the 15th of July Placentia, California, at the age of 94.
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Murphy was born September 4, 1926, in Shanghai, China, before moving to the U.S. in 1941. A sports fanatic, he played second base for the varsity team at University High School in Los Angeles. He also served in the military as a staff sergeant in World War II and came out of the Korean War as a captain.
Dennis attended the University of Southern California and majored in economics and in 1958, he served one term as mayor of Buena Park in Orange County, California, before becoming a marketing executive for some of the biggest Civil Engineering firms in California, Voorheis, Trindle, and Nelson.
However, what is known to everyone is that he had many innovative ideas in sports. In the 1960s he co-founded the American Basketball Association with Gary Davidson, and in the ‘70s the two men co-founded the World Hockey Association.
Dennis also co-founded the original World Team Tennis and the in the ‘90s, Roller Hockey International with Larry King and Alex Bellehumeur.
Having said this, he did not just create sports leagues, he was a visionary who created ground-breaking marketing and promotional tactics like the 3-point shot, the slam-dunk contest, team cheerleaders, and the red, white, and blue basketball.
The league also created such stars as Julius (“Dr J”) Irving, George Gervin, Rick Barry and many more.
The World Hockey Association was the first league that brought European hockey players to North America and it was WHA who challenged the NHL’s reserve clause and the Canadian Hockey Association for the right to draft under 20-year olds, which included a 17-year-old phenom named Wayne Gretzky.
The upstart of WHA also gave the NHL’s Bobby Hull a $ 1 million signing bonus to leave the Chicago Blackhawks and join the new league’s Winnipeg Jets. The WHA’s chase for NHL stars like Hull, Gordie Howe, Derek Sanderson and others served to increase players’ salaries in both leagues and changed the entire climate of sports.
Dennis was also elected to the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
Murphy, along with Larry King, also came up with “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King at the Houston Astrodome, which was televised live across the nation.
There were other leagues which Murphy helped create which includes the original International Football League, the International Basketball Association, Bobby Sox Softball, and Professional Women’s Softball.
Jeanie Buss, Governor and Co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers said, “Dennis Murphy was a close friend of my father, Dr. Jerry Buss.
“Dennis always had new ideas he would brainstorm with my dad. He was a creative visionary and many of the innovations in the NBA – like the 3-point shot and slam dunk contest – came from the ABA, the rival league he founded in 1967.”
Those who knew Dennis Murphy on a personal level know it was his hearty laugh, practical jokes and gift for storytelling that led to lifelong friendships – even from those who started off as rivals.
For example, David McLane who was the creator of World Roller Hockey League, which eventually merged with Roller Hockey International, was a rival of Murphy and turned into a friend later and remembers Dennis for his Irish spirit, humour and love of USC football.
He called him the “World’s Greatest Promoter” and said, “Dennis could cold-call any titan of business and get a meeting – and nine times out of 10, close a deal.”
Richard Graham, who edited Dennis’ autobiography named “MURPH: The Sports Entrepreneur and His Leagues”, said, “Murph loved to rib you any way he could.
“Dennis would make fun of your mustache or your athletic ability or wonder out loud how you had attracted a pretty girlfriend. Then he’d grin and cackle.”
According to Jeffrey Buma, Murphy’s friend, a hockey tournament director inspired to create his events by Murphy, “Dennis would say that you were the worst goaltender in the world, and you’d feel honored! He was cheap, too… most times, someone else would be left to pay the check for lunches and dinners,” Buma said, laughing.