LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dennis Murphy, a sports entrepreneur who co-founded professional basketball, hockey, tennis and roller hockey leagues that featured innovations in marketing, rules and style of play, is died Thursday. He was 94 years old.
Murphy died of congestive heart failure at an assisted living facility in the town of Placentia, Orange County, Calif., According to his son, Dennis Jr.
Elder Murphy co-founded the American Basketball Association, the World Hockey Association, World Team Tennis and Roller Hockey International.
Each of the leagues used revolutionary marketing and promotional tactics, new rules and a style of play that forced the evolution of already established leagues.
“He always had a vision for the sport,” said Dennis Jr.. “He was kind of like the underdog, so he always wanted to bring a new league.”
The ABA began in 1967 and lasted until it merged with the National Basketball Association in 1976, leading to the accession of four ABA teams to the NBA and the introduction of 3-point shooting in 1979. -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, part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. “Dennis always had new ideas to brainstorm with my dad. He was a creative visionary and most of the innovations in the NBA, like the 3-point shootout and dunk competition, came from the ABA.
The WHA existed from 1972 to 1979 and while it was not the first league to challenge dominance of the National Hockey League, it was by far the most successful.
Almost 70 players moved from the NHL to the WHA in its first year, led by Bobby Hull, who signed an unprecedented $ 1 million contract. Gordie Howe quickly followed.
“The players really liked my dad a lot,” said Dennis Jr., citing their richer contracts. “I don’t know if the owners really liked it.
The WHA also recruited players from Europe, ushering in a new era of North American hockey. Hall of Fame members Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier began their careers in the WHA. Murphy was commissioner for three years.
He co-founded World Team Tennis in 1973 with Larry King, Fred Barman, and Jordan Kaiser, and the championship began in 1974 with 16 teams, a four-color tennis court, and teams consisting 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 then resurrected and continues today.
In 1988, Murphy created the 12-team International Basketball Association which included players 6-foot-4 and under.
Murphy’s last professional league was Roller Hockey International from 1992 to 1999. He was inspired after seeing children play roller hockey on concrete instead of ice. King joined with Murphy and Alex Bellehumeur in developing the league.
Murphy and King produced the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, who was married to Larry King, at the Houston Astrodome.
Born 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 an army master sergeant in World War II and as a captain in the Korean War. He majored in economics at the University of Southern California. He served a term as mayor of Buena Park, Calif., In the late 1950s before becoming a marketing manager for a civil engineering company.
Besides his son, he is survived by his daughters Dawn Mee and Doreen Haarlamert, nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. His wife, Elaine, died in 1985.
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