Dennis Murphy, Impresario of Alternative Leagues, Dies at 94

He founded the American Basketball Association, which revolutionized the game, and participated in other imaginative, sometimes zany sports ventures.


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Dennis Murphy, the impresario of alternative athletic leagues, including the American Basketball Association, who also shook up tennis and ice hockey and launched imaginative, sometimes quixotic ventures in other sports, among them indoor roller hockey, died on Thursday at an assistant living facility in Placentia, Calif. He was 94.

His son, Dennis Jr., told The Associated Press that the cause was heart failure.

Mr. Murphy’s most lasting achievement was the A.B.A., the competitor to the National Basketball Association from 1967 to 1976, when four of its teams — the New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers — joined the N.B.A. Over time, A.B.A. innovations became fixtures of mainstream professional basketball — most notably the three-point shot, which has increasingly become central to offensive strategy.

“The three-point shot was exactly what our league was supposed to be about: something a little wild, a little out of the ordinary basketball they played in the N.B.A.,” Mr. Murphy was quoted as saying by the sportswriter Terry Pluto in his 1990 history of the A.B.A., “Loose Balls.”

Mr. Murphy was the league’s chief founder. Mr. Pluto called him its “patron saint.”

Perhaps no single event with which Mr. Murphy was associated had greater cultural impact than the “Battle of the Sexes,” the 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King and 55-year-old Bobby Riggs. Mr. Murphy co-produced the game, which drew an estimated 90 million viewers worldwide, stimulated by the drama of Mr. Riggs and his taunts about male supremacy being put to the test.

Mr. Murphy’s ability to get inspired and try something new did not always lead to enduring success. His alternative ice hockey league, the World Hockey Association, lasted only from 1972 to 1979. He was the main force behind Roller Hockey International, which created a professional system for skating on concrete, which began in 1993 and ended in 1999.

Besides his son, Mr. Murphy is survived by his daughters, Dawn Mee and Doreen Haarlamert; nine grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren, according to The A.P. His wife, Elaine, died in 1985.

A complete obituary will be published soon.

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