Dennis Murphy, co-founder of professional sports activities leagues, dies at 94

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dennis Murphy, a sports entrepreneur who co-founded professional leagues in basketball, hockey, tennis, and roller hockey that featured innovations in marketing, rules, and style of play, died Thursday. He was 94.

Murphy died of congestive heart failure in an assisted living facility in the town of Placentia, Orange County, according to his son Dennis Jr.

The elder Murphy co-founded the American Basketball Association, the World Hockey Association, World Team Tennis, and Roller Hockey International.

Each of the leagues used groundbreaking marketing and promotional tactics, new rules and a style of play that encouraged the development of already established leagues.

“He just always had a vision for the sport,” said Dennis Jr. “He was something of the underdog, so he always wanted to introduce a new league.”

The ABA began in 1967 and lasted until its merger with the National Basketball Association in 1976, which resulted in four ABA teams joining the NBA and in 1979 the introduction of the 3-point shot-and-blue basketball, a slam Dunk competition and team cheerleaders.

“Dennis Murphy was a close friend of my father, Dr. Jerry Buss, ”said Jeanie Buss, co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. “Dennis always had new ideas that he and my dad would consider. 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 WHA existed from 1972-79 and while it wasn’t the first division to challenge the dominance of the National Hockey League, it was by far the most successful.

Nearly 70 players jumped into the WHA in their first year from the NHL, led by Bobby Hull, who signed an unprecedented $ 1 million deal. Gordie Howe soon followed suit.

“The players really liked my father,” said Dennis Jr., citing their richer contracts. “I don’t know if the owners really liked it.”

The WHA also signed European players, paving the way for a new era in North American hockey. Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier began their careers with the WHA. Murphy was a commissioner for three years.

In 1973 he founded the World Team Tennis together with Larry King, Fred Barman and Jordan Kaiser, and in 1974 the league game began with 16 teams, a four-color tennis court and teams of two men and two women. It was the first professional sports league in which men and women competed on an equal footing. It lasted until 1978 but was later revived and continues to this day.

In 1988, Murphy founded the 12-team International Basketball Association, which featured players 6 feet 4 and under.

Murphy’s last professional league was Roller Hockey International from 1992-99. He was inspired to see children playing roller hockey on concrete instead of ice. King assisted Murphy and Alex Bellehumeur in developing the league.

Murphy and King produced the 1973 TV tennis match “Battle of the Sexes” between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, who was married to Larry King, at the Houston Astrodome

Born on September 4, 1926 in Shanghai, China, where his father worked for Standard Oil, Murphy and his family moved to California in 1941.

Murphy served as the Army Sergeant in World War II and as a captain in the Korean War. He studied economics at the University of Southern California. In the late 1950s, he served as Mayor of Buena Park, California before becoming director of marketing for a construction company.

In addition to his son, he leaves behind daughters Dawn Mee and Doreen Haarlamert, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. In 1985 his wife Elaine died.


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