EPISODE 129: ABA Basketball's Origin Story – With Founder Dennis Murphy

The American Basketball Association was not founder Dennis Murphy’s original intent. 

Thwarted in his attempt to get the fast-growing city of Anaheim, CA (he was mayor of nearby Buena Park) into the fledgling American Football League during the mid-1960s, Murphy quickly pivoted his attention to basketball – reasoning that with only 12 teams in the staid, yet long-established National Basketball Association, there surely must have been room for more.

“What the hell,” Murphy told author Terry Pluto in his seminal 1990 oral history Loose Balls.  “The AFL had worked, hadn't it?  Maybe we could force a merger with the NBA."

By the end of the ABA’s ninth season in 1976, Murphy’s unwitting prescience had become reality – and along with it, a validating blueprint for how to modernize professional sports in North America.

The legendarily inveterate sports entrepreneur (Murph: The Sports Entrepreneur Man and His Leagues) joins the podcast to discuss how the iconically idiosyncratic ABA got started, as well as hints of how other future pursuits – like the World Hockey Association, World Team Tennis, the World Football League, and Roller Hockey International – would similarly come to be. 

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Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association - buy here

Murph: The Sports Entrepreneur Man and His Leagues - buy here

 

Game Changer: The Dennis Murphy Story - watch here

EPISODE #81: Roller Hockey International – With Richard Neil Graham

Richard Neil Graham (Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks: A Rocking History of Roller Hockey International) joins the big show to delve into the 1990s summertime indoor league started by inveterate sports entrepreneur (and defunct sports patron saint) Dennis Murphy – designed to profit from major arena owners’ desire for summer events, minor league players looking for extra work, and a budding national craze for inline skating.

Despite deep pockets from several team and arena owners from the NBA and NHL – including Los Angeles’ Buss family (previous Murphy partners in World Team Tennis two decades earlier), and Howard Baldwin (an original franchise owner in the Murphy-founded World Hockey Association in 1972) – the bulk of RHI franchises were decidedly less capitalized or marketing-savvy.  

That didn’t stop the league from aggressive expansion, however, from an inaugural 1993 roster of 12 teams to a mind-boggling 24 franchises the following season (and diligent listeners to this podcast know how ambitious moves like those often turn out).  Predictably, by RHI’s sixth and final campaign in 1999 (after taking 1998 off to reorganize), the league was down to eight clubs and barely made it to season’s end.

National TV coverage on a fledgling ESPN2, solid fan enthusiasm in places like Anaheim (the Bullfrogs regularly drew 10,000+ fans a game to the new Arrowhead Pond), innovative rules adjustments (five-a-side teams and no blue lines, to open up space and scoring), and even a novel proprietary puck designed to generate long-term sustainable licensing revenues, were not enough to sustain RHI into the new millennium.

Thank you to our awesome sponsors for this week’s episode: MyBookie, OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and Audible!

Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks: A Rocking History of Roller Hockey International - buy here

                        

RHI Logo T-Shirts from UGP Campus Apparel - click individual shirt photos or buy here