Thursday, January 04, 2007

Legends --- Gone but they’ll never be forgotten II

The year that was is over, and before SBN’s Insider Reports (180 written in 2006, an 80 percent increase over the 100 published in 2005) moves forward, there are a few more look backs at 2006 that need to taken care of first. The sports industry lost a number of leaders, several pillars of industry, men and women who need to be remembered for their lifelong contributions to the sports world for their outstanding contributions in helping sports grow into a half trillion dollar industry.

Even more important on the day Nick Saban showed the character Alabama has decided will guide their football destiny. Saban a man whose word isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, the quality Lamar Hunt and Arnold “Red” Auerbach shared was they’ll always be remembered as men of honor. An outdated and seldom used cliché, Hunt and Auerbach where men among men, heroes to generations of men and women who have and will follow in their footsteps. Hunt an Auerbach truly deserve to be called “Titans of Industry” for their immeasurable contributions to the sports industry.

The sports industry has had their fair share of moguls, men who through their actions have helped build sports into what is today considered a half trillion dollar industry. Lamar Hunt is one such man, who not only left the world a much better place, but whose contributions to the sports industry are of such great magnitude, Lamar Hunt will always be considered as one of the greats in the history of sports – a builder, a true visionary. He has been inducted as a builder into the Pro Football, Pro Soccer and Tennis Hall of Fame.

Recognized as one of the greatest sportsmen in American history, Hunt served as the guiding force behind the formation of both the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs franchise.

Hunt served as a positive influence on the game for 47 years dating back to his conception of the American Football League in ‘59. He was the first AFL figure to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in ‘72, a remarkable feat considering he became involved in the game just 13 years earlier.

Hunt served as the catalyst that brought together the whimsically-named “Foolish Club” comprised of the eight original AFL owners. His “impossible dream” became a reality when his fledgling league took foot on the field for the ‘60 season. On June 8, 1966, the AFL-NFL merger was announced by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and on January 15, 1967, Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs were participating in the inaugural Super Bowl.

“Before there was a player, coach or a general manager in the league there was Lamar Hunt,” late Patriots owner William Sullivan remarked at Hunt’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “Hunt was the cornerstone, the integrity of the league. Without him, there would have been no AFL.”

Despite his many accomplishments, Hunt’s humility was one of his most unwavering and most endearing traits. While he modestly declined to take credit for his efforts, he truly played an important role in the design, ongoing development and direction of the modern-day National Football League.

Whether it was serving as the driving force behind the formation of the AFL, serving as a key player in the AFL-NFL merger talks in the ‘60s, or overseeing many crucial issues concerning pro football and the Chiefs franchise during the past four decades, few individuals helped change the face of America’s favorite game for the better than this quiet Texan.

In addition to being a principal negotiator in the merger of the AFL and NFL in the late ‘60s, he was a contributor to the design of the NFL playoff format. He is also credited with accidentally putting the name “Super Bowl” on the NFL’s championship game — the name coming from his children’s toy “Super Ball.”

"Lamar Hunt's a pioneer and a pillar of the National Football League. ... There aren't enough words to accurately describe who Lamar Hunt was and what he has meant to the NFL and to Kansas City. For the Chiefs, he was our Founder. ... To Kansas City, he's more than just the owner of a professional franchise. He's committed himself there with other businesses such as Hunt Midwest Enterprises, creating thousands of jobs throughout the Kansas City community. He's been one of the most philanthropic people I've ever been involved with." Carl Peterson, president, Kansas City Chiefs said upon learning of Hunt’s passing.

"His vision transformed pro football and helped turn a regional sport into a national passion. Lamar created a model franchise in the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was always equally devoted to the best interests of the league and the game." NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

"He was one of the most considerate, one of the most thoughtful and one of the most visionary people you could ever deal with." Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner, 1989-2006.

"When you walked in a room and you saw him and saw he was a part of something, you knew it was something that was branded with integrity and solid and something you could stand behind." Robert Kraft, owner, New England Patriots.

"He was a founder. He was the energy, really, that put together half of the league, and then he was the key person in merging the two leagues together. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody that's made a bigger contribution [to the NFL] than Lamar Hunt." Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

"He was not one to flaunt it, he just did it." K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr., founder and owner, Tennessee Titans.

In 1984, the league renamed the AFC Championship Trophy the Lamar Hunt Trophy in honor of Hunt, in recognition for his founding of the American Football League.
Dan Rooney, Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers added: "Lamar Hunt was one of the most influential owners in professional football over the past 40-plus years, He was instrumental in the formation of the American Football League and in the AFL-NFL merger, which helped the National Football League grow into America's passion."

For almost half a century, Hunt's has been a pre-eminent name on the U.S. sports landscape. His contributions to MLS and soccer in the United States in general are almost immeasurable, ranging from his initial investment in the league to his vision in developing soccer-specific stadiums to his willingness to take over a struggling league-controlled franchise in the interest of the league's survival.

The opening of Crew Stadium was the first domino to fall in a stadium construction boom that has seen the completion of The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.; Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas; and Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.; BMO Field in Toronto will open next spring, and plans for stadiums in Harrison, N.J.; Sandy, Utah; Washington, D.C.; and Johnson County, Kan., are in various stages of completion.

"I think you need to give all the credit to Lamar Hunt for kicking this off and taking the risk, first in recognizing that the situation at Ohio State's football stadium was not going to be viable long-term and working with the various authorities and businesses in the community to create a model that allowed Columbus Crew Stadium to be built," said Real Salt Lake general manager Steve Pastorino in a story published in the MLS Cup 2006 gameday program. "It showed anybody else that it can be done."

"All of us at Major League Soccer are deeply saddened by the loss of one of the true sport visionaries and a great friend to us all," Garber said. "On behalf of our owners, players, coaches, administrators and fans, we offer our sincerest condolences to Lamar's wife Norma, his sons Clark, Dan, Lamar, Jr., and daughter Sharron.

"There is no doubt that MLS and the sport of soccer in America would not be where it is today without Lamar Hunt's passion, commitment and unrelenting love of the game. He dreamed more than 30 years ago that America could someday be a Soccer Nation. And he lived to see that dream come true.

"Everyone at Major League Soccer was fortunate to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with someone who had a hand in writing our history, and to work alongside a man whose humility, quiet confidence and commitment continue to serve as a lesson to us all." Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber.

In 1967, Hunt co-founded the World Championship Tennis circuit, which gave birth to the open era in tennis. He was made a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993.

WCT (World Championship Tennis) used to be a tour for professional male tennis players established in 1967. A number of tennis tournaments around the world were affiliated to WCT and players were ranked in a special WCT ranking according to their results in those tournaments.

"I think people need to be aware of what he brought to the sport of tennis: the passion he brought, the love of the game. He was someone who really gave these players an opportunity to go out and make a great living. He cared about the sport. I was lucky that I came at the time where it was just starting to explode and there were a lot of great personalities in the sport yet, at the same time; you had at least a sense of appreciation for what a man like Lamar Hunt was laying on the line." John McEnroe, tennis champion.

Has any industry had anyone who played the key role in the evolution of three different sectors of that industry? It’s almost unimaginable to even begin to comprehend what Lamar Hunt has meant to the sports industry. Historically each sport can find its own ‘titan of industry’ individuals whose influence proved to be invaluable to the growth of that sport. But no where is there one man who has had as much positive impact on three sports (professional football, soccer and tennis) than what Lamar Hunt has contributed to those three sports. Who else has been recognized with enshrinement into three different sports Hall of Fame(s) in the builder category?

In 1995 The Center for the Study of Sport in Society (CSSS) at Northeastern University, recognized Arnold “Red” Auerbach’s contributions to sports by inducting Auerbach into its Hall of Fame. Auerbach was the second person to be honored, following Muhammad Ali’s 1994 induction.

Auerbach whose life lessons are what legends are made of shared a key learning lesson with John Feinstein when the two got together for the best selling 2004 book -- Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game. One summer while attending Washington’s George Washington University in 1938, Auerbach along with three teammates, joined, four from Georgetown, four from American, and four from the University of Maryland -- were given internships to work at the National Training School for Boys. The man who twelve years later integrated the NBA was offered a unique opportunity to understand what it was like to be young Black man in the late 1930’s.

"It was, basically, a very tough reform school," Red recounted in the book. "It was for kids who were federal offenders. They had stolen cars and taken them across state lines or committed crimes that involved guns. Some of them weren't kids, either, because birth certificates weren't all that easy to track down in those days."

"The place was segregated. There were four white companies and two black companies. I worked there 20 hours a week. I don't think I ever learned more about leadership, about discipline, about dealing with people than I learned there."

"One of the men in charge of one of the black companies was Mr. Burns. I don't think I ever knew his first name. He was unbelievable. He was tough, so tough that when he took time off they had to bring in three guys to sub for him. But he understood people. He knew when to get in their faces and when to reason with them. He told me that the best way to get your job done wasn't to intimidate -- which I couldn't have done anyway -- but to earn their trust. You said something was going to happen -- good or bad -- make sure it happened. I tried to remember that."

"One time, I caught a bunch of my guys with a still out in the back. They'd found a bunch of dandelions out there and had managed to brew up some awful, cheap alcohol. They were drunk as could be. I got 'em back inside, sobered 'em up, and put 'em to bed. Didn't turn 'em in. Who could blame them for wanting to get drunk in that environment? They remembered that."

"Another time, we're getting ready to go out for exercise, and I realize that one of the master keys is missing. This is a big deal, because someone has that key, they can get in anyplace on the complex, steal just about anything they want to steal. I get my guys together and say, 'We're not going out until I get that key. I don't care who took it, I'll turn my back, and whoever has it just throw the key on the floor.' Nothing. So, finally, I take this guy named Frenchie aside. He was the leader. That's another thing Mr. Burns had taught me: Every group has a leader, and that guy knows everything. So I said to him, I didn't want any information at all, but I know that you know who has the key, and we aren't going anywhere, today, the next day, whenever, until I get the key back. I told him he had five minutes, or I had to go to the higher-ups."

"Frenchie goes back into the room. I wait. A minute later, I hear the key clattering on the floor."

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you they were all good kids who'd had bad luck. But some of them were. I'd bought a car that year, finally got my dad to give me 100 bucks to get one. It was a Ford convertible [to this day Red drives a convertible]. The radio broke. One of the kids said he could fix it for me, so I said fine."

"I go over to see how he's coming, and the engine's running. He says, 'I didn't want to run your battery down, so I just hot-wired the engine.' He also fixed the radio."

"A lot of those kids got out during the war by volunteering for the service. Years later, I still heard from some of them. If I learned nothing else from Mr. Burns, it was when to trust people and when not to. You look a guy right in the eye and he doesn't look right back at you, you can bet he's lying. He looks back, he's either telling the truth or he's a damn good liar."

Former Celtic M.L. Carr hit the nail on the head when he shared some his Auerbach memories with the Boston Globe Sunday.

"I remember my first year in Boston, we clinched the best record in the division and we were celebrating a little bit in the locker room when Red came in and he said, 'What's all this,' " said Carr, who won titles as a player in 1981 and 1984 and coached the team from 1995-97. "We told him what had happened. And he said, 'We don't celebrate division titles. We celebrate championships.' He set the bar high for everyone."

"This is not the passing of a man, it's the passing of an institution. He came into a hockey town with a 6-9 black guy [Bill Russell] and sold professional sports in a racially charged city. That was one sales job."

"Beyond his incomparable achievements, Red had come to be our basketball soul and our basketball conscience. The void left by his death will never be filled." -- NBA commissioner David Stern.

"Red was a true champion and one whose legacy transcends the Celtics and basketball. He was the gold standard in coaching and in civic leadership, and he set an example that continues today. We all knew and loved Red in the Kennedy family. He joined my first campaign for Senate, and President Kennedy tried never to miss a game. We were so fortunate to be able to go to the Boston Garden in its heyday and watch Red make magic, but more than being a legendary coach and Boston institution, Red was a person of the highest caliber with a heart and generosity that knew no bounds. When my son Teddy was receiving treatment, Red always made the time to stop by and visit him, which meant the world to all of us. With every whistle that blows for the Boston Celtics, Red's spirit is celebrated and his memory cherished. He was loved and never will be forgotten." -- Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts

An era that the sports world will never see again ended in 2006. It was an era that included the NFL’s Vince Lombardi, the NHL’s Toe Blake and the NCAA’s Bear Bryant. With the exception of Basketball Hall of Fame coach John Wooden, the greatest leaders and coaches in sports history have passed away. Their impact wasn’t in the games they won, their impact wasn’t in the titles and in the champions they won but in the examples they set as men and as leaders, in instilling ideals and life lessons.

"Red Auerbach was one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He did so many things to help improve the game," said Bill Sharman, who played for Auerbach in Boston and went on to become coach and general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I believe he was responsible for making the NBA as popular as it is today by introducing the fast break and making the game more exciting. He was a coach who went out of his way to help his players and it was a privilege to play for him for 10 years and win four championships together. Besides being such a great coach, he was also a great friend and he will be truly missed."

"Nobody has had as much impact on a sport as Red Auerbach had on the game of basketball. He was a pioneer of the NBA," said Tommy Heinsohn, a Hall of Fame player in Boston before becoming a Celtics coach and broadcaster. "He left his philosophy of winning championships, playing hard and playing as a team with several generations of players. ... The game of basketball will never see anyone else like him."

Thousands of people today work in the sports industry and while many likely know little if anything about the lasting legacy, the amazing contributions, the vision of men like Lamar Hunt and Red Auerbach who proved they were capable of contributing to the sports industry, each and every day of their remarkable personal and professional careers. Lamar Hunt and Arnold “Red” Auerbach, true titans of industry, two of the greatest there will ever be, who left the sports industry in 2006 a much better place than the day they arrived. Their greatness will never be experienced again.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

Labels: , , , , ,