Biography Dennis Murphy's Untold Story

Despite challenges and setbacks along the way, Dennis Murphy’s founding involvement and innovations in the games of basketball, hockey, tennis and roller hockey, still impacts sports to this day.

Every story has a beginning and like all true pioneers, Dennis Murphy didn’t just see the sports world as it was, he saw what it could be.

Shortly after Dennis graduated from USC in the late-40s, he entered politics and became the youngest Mayor in his home town of Buena Park, California, garnering a reputation as one of the savviest, most ambitious, most aggressive Mayors the County ever saw. He knew it was time to bring sports to the region, and, through sports, bring new energy and vitality to the surrounding area.

At first, Dennis wanted to bring football to Orange County, California and got together a large group of investors and stadium administrators, but as timing would have it, pro football owners were in the midst of merging the AFL with the NFL, thwarting Dennis’ plans, creating the new National Football League.

The pursuit of money never fueled Dennis’ ambition, but he did accumulate a great deal of another type of wealth. After several decades working with hundreds of the elite athletes, owners, and coaches in the world of sports, this old game changer has collected many fans and admirers.

American Basketball Association (ABA) Click here to view

Every story has a beginning and like all true pioneers, Dennis Murphy didn’t just see the sports world as it was, he saw what it could be.

In addition, Dennis found out that there were several other cities across the country that also wanted professional basketball teams to fill their stadiums and arenas, and that the NBA was set in their ways, having no intentions of ever expanding their league or changing their style of play. So, Dennis Murphy took it upon himself to create an entirely new league to compete with the NBA.

“When we didn’t get the team, the guys that we had put together said, ‘Hey, you know what, we ought to try something else in sports.’ So we got together and decided either basketball or hockey. And at that time, we decided to go with basketball.” - DENNIS MURPHY

The formidable task of creating from scratch, a brand new pro basketball league, was underway. The first step was to find attorneys who could help with all the legal maneuverings involved in establishing new teams. A friend of Dennis’ introduced him to Gary Davidson and Don Regan, who were to become partners in the new venture.

Dennis needed to give the league respectability and credibility, so he had to convince one of the most prominent former basketball personalities of the era to take on the challenge of becoming the first Commissioner of the newly created American Basketball Association. That somebody was the legendary George Mikan.

All Dennis had to do then, was to come up with new team owners. But financial viability was only one of many criteria in finding suitable candidates.

With the ABA underway, Dennis’ force of personality drew in some of the biggest players of the era. Many of them came over from the NBA, especially after their scoring champion, Rick Barry, became the first big-name player to cross over and play for the ABA’s Oakland Oaks, owned at that time by the famous entertainer, Pat Boone.

Undaunted, and unwilling to lose focus on putting people in seats, Dennis kept one foot in the league by becoming Vice President and General Manager of the Miami Floridians. From there, yet another innovation was born.

Dennis saw that all the cheerleaders at that time were fully dressed with heavy sweaters and pom-poms, and so he experimented on a pioneering and quite visionary new idea.

By now, Dennis was thoroughly seasoned in organizing a new sports league. He went into overdrive, determined to change the face of hockey and to be the first to develop a pro hockey league that would be a major competitor to the National Hockey League. As luck would have it, one of hockey’s most popular players just happened to be looking for a way to escape the NHL.

Check out some articles Dennis Murphy was featured in:

World Hockey Association (WHA) Click here to view

Dennis Murphy is the single reason there is NHL hockey in Edmonton and other cities today, and for many years in Hartford and Quebec City. In 1972 he was the founder of the World Hockey Association and later the International Roller Hockey Federation. He created hundreds of jobs for professional hockey players, quadrupled the salaries they were making by playing in the NHL and, in effect, forced the NHL teams of the mid-70’s to start paying their players salaries that reflected their true value. Although only four WHA teams merged with the NHL in 1979, the league proved to the hockey world that other major US cities could support professional hockey. That opened the door for NHL teams in Denver, Calgary and Ottawa, AHL or ECHL teams in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Hartford, Baltimore and Houston. Once Dennis convinced Bobby Hull to jump from the Chicago Black Hawks to the Winnipeg Jets more than 60 NHL players who were free agent followed suit including the likes of Ralph Backstom, Johnny McKenzie, Gerry Cheevers, Peter and Frank Mahovlich and yes, the Hanson brothers, Jack Carlson, Steve Carlson and Dave Hanson.

Wayne Gretzky, just 17 years old, played his first pro hockey with the Indianapolis Racers and then the Edmonton Oilers. Dennis Murphy made the rule that allowed 16 or 17 year olds to sign in the WHA when it was forbidden in the NHL. The Oilers would not have been a dynasty were it not for Wayne Gretzky.

Dennis Murphy was recently honored by the Edmonton Oilers NHL team. He was “king for a day” in that great NHL city where he was mobbed by media and fans alike. The video of his dropping the puck, from the NHL website, can be seen below.

World Team Tennis (WTT) Click here to view

Even after creating and founding two major professional leagues as he did in basketball and hockey, Dennis Murphy didn't sit back on his 'laurels', and it didn’t take Dennis long to get back into the sports promotion and league creation business. This next time, his inspiration came from a fateful phone call from a couple of old friends - tennis superstar Billie Jean King and her then-husband, Larry King. The Kings had a terrific idea of wanting to make Tennis into a national league sport, but they had no idea how to go about doing that. So they called the only man in the U.S. who had already put together two major pro sports leagues to help them put together a pro tennis league, and that person was none other than Dennis Murphy. He was the only sports promoter who could possibly pull all the pieces together to create a brand new pro sports league - and World Team Tennis was created shortly thereafter.

The World Team Tennis (WTT) Professional Tennis league was founded in 1973 by four people: Larry King (Owner of San Francisco Golden Gaters), Dennis Murphy (founder of the ABA and WHA), Fred Barman, and Jordan Kaiser. The league began play in May 1974 with George MacCall as Commissioner of the 16 teams: Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Florida, Hawaii, Houston, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.

The original league format included a four colored tennis court, a 44 contest season, and teams of at least two men and two women. A match consisted of the first player or team to win five games, with a nine point tiebreaker at four all, and no-ad scoring in: women’s singles and doubles, men’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles. This made WTT the first professional sports league to give equal weight to each man and woman competing for their teams.

WTT was the first professional sports experience for Jerry Buss (eventual owner of NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings), and for Bob Kraft (eventual owner of the NFL's New England Patriots and the MLS's New England Revolution).

Not only did the new tennis league help budding owners get their feet wet, but it also introduced tennis to the public in a fresh and friendly way that brought in a large number of new fans.

Elton John even wrote the theme song "Philadelphia Freedom" for his favorite team, headed by Billie Jean King.

World Team Tennis still exists today as a pro league with 12 teams, and Billie Jean King is still active as the Commissioner of the league.

Roller Hockey International (RHI) Click here to view

Once Dennis Murphy had successfully created the ABA, WHA, WTT and a number of other pro sports leagues, the next chapter in Dennis Murphy’s innovative career took place while he was driving through Southern California’s sunny neighborhoods one day in the late 1980s. That’s when Dennis dreamed his next professional sports venture dream.

What he visualized out his car window was an old sport, played with new equipment.

Dennis Murphy saw a bunch of kids playing hockey on the streets with a net using inline skates, and he said ‘Gee, that sounds interesting.’ So he got a couple of partners together two partners together, and decided to try to go ahead and put together a new league, using inline skates in a hockey style league.

With that, the new “Roller Hockey International” league was born. Dennis already knew the formula for growth and promotion - he needed to recruit a top celebrity hockey star to be commissioner, to give his league immediate credibility and legitimacy. So, he chose someone with whom he had already developed a relationship - his WHA alum – Ralph Backstrom – a six-time Stanley Cup winner in the NHL. Roller Hockey International was a professional inline hockey league that operated in North America from 1993 to 1999. It was the first major professional league for inline hockey.

RHI hoped to capitalize on the inline skating boom of the early 1990s. Key parts of its success were its stance on no guaranteed contracts, instead teams would all split prize money. Teams were generally made up of minor league ice hockey players playing on inline skates during the summer months between ice seasons.

Dennis and his partners also had to create lot only the league itself, but also a brand new puck - the next thing anyone knew, the little puck sold about 3 million units, and it became the official puck of Roller Hockey International, and it gave birth to a professional league, and it actually propelled the sport of in-line skating, from a million dollar industry in 1992, to a billion dollar industry in 1994. It was an absolutely meteoric rise of the entire in-line industry, all thanks to Dennis Murphy and his creation. That little puck and Dennis' dream helped give birth to that whole operation.”

International Women Walk of Fame (IWFF) Click here to view

Age has not slowed down Dennis Murphy's game. The ideas and innovations still flow today. His latest creation is a 'Walk of Fame' just for women of great accomplishment, to be constructed in the same style as the popular Hollywood Walk of Fame, to begin at the entrance of Knott's berry Farm in Buena Park, california, the same town Dennis Murphy was elected as Mayor back in 1958.

Dennis Murphy has felt that throughout history, many great women in the world have unfortunately not received the honor they deserve. Murphy also saw how many millions of tourists and people come to Hollywood, and see the Walk of Fame out by the Graumann’s Chinese Theater and all along Hollywood Boulevard. It’s just tremendous and everybody loves it. So Dennis gathered another assortment of partners and got together and said, "Why not start an International Women’s Walk of Fame? Strictly for the women.”

So Dennis Murphy and his colleagues went to the city of Buena Park and got a unanimous vote from the City Council to proceed with the idea, then went to Knotts Berry Farm, where it’s going to start – it’s going to go from Knotts Berry Farm to the Wax Museum on the sidewalk.

The plan is to have a groundbreaking ceremony within the next couple of years.