Who doesn’t like holding a much deserved sports trophy in their hand? No one that I have ever run across. Ever since playing sports as a kid I have been hooked on trophies. Why, I still have most of my youth league trophies stored in a box in the garage. From this you can probably tell that I am stoked each year at the end of the NBA Finals when the World Champions are presented with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
The what? I bet many of you that watch the NBA Finals are not even aware of the name of the Championship Trophy. Don’t fret, you are not alone. However, you probably readily recognize the Stanley Cup, the National Hockey League’s trophy. Fortunately this recognition problem hasn’t been missed by the NBA. In fact, in recent years they have taken strides to turn this relatively unheralded trophy into an icon of its own, one more on par with the Stanley Cup and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Larry O’Brien: Who was this guy?
So who is this trophy named after anyway? Unless you are a diehard basketball fan, you probably can only guess that he was himself some iconic figure residing in a forgotten chapter of NBA history. You would be partly right. Larry O’Brien was a former NBA commissioner who served from 1975 to 1983.
He led a storied life even before he took over the reins of the NBA. Before coming to the NBA front office, Larry served as the Postmaster General during the Lyndon Johnson administration. He was heavily involved in politics, helping John F. Kennedy get elected into Congress and serving as the chairman to the Democratic National Convention for several years. But enough of that.
He took over the NBA during a period of transition in 1975. He successfully directed the ABA – NBA merger (no small feat in its own right), saw the league expand from 18 to 23 teams, introduced the NBA to cable television, and was instrumental in seeing the annual attendance to NBA games top 10 million. These were impressive feats on their own, but when you consider the state of the NBA when Larry O’Brien took over they look herculean.
After the merger of the ABA and NBA in the mid 70’s, many viewed the NBA as a public relations nightmare. Fans and reporters alike felt that the NBA had become the haven of drug use by the players. As a result, O’Brien pushed for and achieved an anti-drug agreement with the NBA Players Association. As a result of his persistent and dedicated efforts, the NBA rose to new heights from which it has kept growing.
Larry O’Brien served as commissioner until 1984. That same year the league changed the name of the NBA Championship Trophy to its current moniker as a tribute to a most deserving icon in NBA history. Perhaps the next time you watch one of your favorite NBA players raise the Championship Trophy high above their head, you will take a second and remember the man that helped make all that possible.
Dennis Phoenix is an avid sports fanatic and human resource specialist. He writes primarily on topics ranging from business relationships to employee satisfaction for Able Trophies, a supplier of glass awards and crystal awards. He spends his weekends watching sports or mountain biking.