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Friday, June 12, 2009

Peter Pays Tribute to Roy L. M. (Let's Move) Boe ...

“Google Roy Boe into the next millennium and, unfortunately, he’ll be remembered as the guy who sold Julius Erving”--Billy Melchionni    

      “I don’t want that to be his legacy, because it’s not”-- Amanda Boe

 By Peter Vecsey

     Outsiders have no conception how attached those of us on the ABA’s front lines got during its 9-year struggle for recognition, credibility and survival…and remain committed to each other to this day.

     With few exceptions—NBA league jumpers Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Joe Caldwell, Zelmo Beaty—we were all just trying to get a foot in the door to a larger room where we could show what we got in front of the mainstream audience.

     On the court there would be no mercy: Confrontations between teammates would result in someone sprinting to his car and coming back with an equalizer for John Brisker, ostensibly ending the Pittsburgh Condors practice; brawls between opponents, including coaches, would spill into the stands and sometimes continue until the visitors’ bloody bus (thanks to Squires muscleman Neil Johnson pulverizing Brisker) peeled out of the parking lot; and cherry beat writers took wild shots in print.

     It was an altogether different story after work. Solidarity was absolute. The windows of our isolated little world were tinted red, white and blue. Long before the NBA contracted “Affluenza” and teams began traveling by charter, they remained in town after games to party hearty or play cards alongside allies, antagonists, referees, reporters and cheerleaders.

     On special occasions—all-star weekends and during the playoffs--certain unnamed commissioners and owners would be right there with us doing some serious bonding…with a quick side trip now and then to Las Vegas for anyone up for some mischief.

     Ah, those were the days…and the nights weren’t too shabby, either.

     Roy Boe wasn’t a carouser, a gambler, a joker or a midnight toker, but I liked him just the same….despite the fact The Mysterious J,, whom I met in the Nassau Coliseum press room when she was a college intern during the never-to-be "Dr. J-Tiny A" season, was fired by a paranoid executive for supposedly leaking team secrets to me.

     It’s merely a coincidence, I maintained—a story I’m sticking to—that I never had a Nets’ scoop before the relationship’s inauguration or since my wife of 30 years dismissal.

     In any event, from the time Boe purchased the Nets May 26, 1969 until the day he sold it August 28, ’78, he did whatever it took to insure the “privileged’ fan base never had a dull moment and the team was in it to win it.

     Often, er, always, Boe took his craving to compete for publicity with the championship Knicks and contend with them (if only in his mind until the two leagues consolidated in ’76) to extremes:

   Worried his kids would grow up saying, “Ya’ll,” Barry mouthed his way out off the Squires before they shifted from D.C. to Virginia; Lou Carnesecca was induced to leave his St. John’s sanctuary; undergraduate Jim Chones, supposedly the second coming of Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), was lured to leave Marquette; Erving was acquired from Squires’ owner Earl Foreman, on the precipice of losing him to the NBA; Larry Kenon was outright stolen from Charlie Finley whose Memphis team had drafted him (commish Robert Carlson, a former Nets’ minority owner, ruled in their favor; anything to make the New York entry stronger); and Knicks’ pinup Dave DeBusschere was hired as team president.

     By ‘76, NBA marquee players were dwindling while the ABA was endowed with an overabundance of precocious crowd pleasers. The time had come to stop financially fighting for talent and merge resources.

     No player was more coveted than Julius Erving.

     No owner was more responsible for influencing the NBA to accept the 2-time titlist Nets, Pacers, Spurs and Nuggets as equals than Roy Boe who passed away Sunday at 79. Mission accomplished! But it cost this imposing, prophetic, passionate, persevering man ultimate fame and his good name.

     Inopportunely, Boe was cash poor and could not absorb the economic hit he took by joining the NBA fraternity ($3.2M) and indemnifying the Knicks (4.8M over ten years) for the right to play in their backyard.

     So, while Boe may very well have promised Erving he’d upgrade his contract should a merger occur, he lacked the willingness or reserve to submit when the time came. When Erving refused to report to training camp and there was no sign he’d crack, Boe decided to sell those sacred services to the 76ers for $3 million.

    So polluted was Long Island’s water, Boe was forced to move the franchise to Piscataway, New Jersey for the ’77-78 season.

     “You can have the most successful business in the world, but if you don’t have proper cash flow, forget it,” says Amanda Boe, who learned that lesson at her father’s knee and first hand running a retail clothing store.


    Speaking by phone from her Connecticut home, she said, “It might sound simplistic, but I still truly believe Julius had a (66-page) contract and should’ve lived up to it. However, in hindsight, my father probably should’ve given him more money, because when the first card was pulled, the whole house fell—cable TV, sponsorships, advertisers, season ticket holders, everything. People perceived him as a traitor. He greatly underestimated the backlash…because he was an eternal optimist.”


     To Billy Melchionni, GM at the time, that, indeed, was the biggest problem. “Roy’s partners didn’t understand the magnitude of what was going to happen. He sold them the notion it was going to be business as usual--he’d take the $3M and go out and get another superstar and they bought it. Trouble was, NBA owners didn’t sell their superstars, and there was only one Julius Erving anyway.”


    “People who didn’t know my father thought he was an egotist, thought all he cared about was money,” protests Amanda Boe, wearing her father’s ’76 championship ring around her neck. “That’s so untrue. He didn’t have material possessions and didn’t care about them. He was the least materialist person I’ve ever known. His sweaters were ragged. His closet is near empty. He gave away everything. Our phone number was in the book. He’d get calls from people he didn’t know asking for tickets. He was so happy to make them happy.”


     Roy Boe loved people. But “his two loves were sports and family,” Amada accentuates. “Last week when he dying he’s in a wheelchair calling around trying to find a bartender’s job for my son Mat. He wanted to make sure all his kids are fine. ‘OK, Sam owns a garment company…and Todd’s going to work for him…and Tinker…and Kate…’ That’s all we ever heard from him. ‘Are you OK? What can I do for you? He was more like a mother than a father.”


     As it frequently does, especially the older you get, fate accosted me upon arriving at Amway Arena for Game 3. One of the first people I crossed paths with was Pat Williams. Yeah, that Pat Williams, the 76ers GM whose lap Dr. J. fell into (“a layup” Melchionni huffs) when Boe succumbed to a torrential pressure.  

      As wired as I was to the explosive situation—working out one-on-one with Julius at Hempstead HS…breaking the done deal on the front page of the NY Daily News—I was never been privy to the details of the transaction.

     Williams, who engineered the expansion admission of the Magic into the NBA and remains a team executive 23 years after its acceptance for a measly $32.5M (the Bobcats shelled out $300M to join in ’04), kindly took the time to give up the long-horded treasured goods. More impressive, he’s agile enough upstairs to recall each development and every conversation verbatim.

     On May 30, 1975, Knicks president Mike Burke cost his organization a future No. 1 pick (as well as legal fees incurred by the hiring of famed lawyer Louie Nizer by 76ers owner Irving Kosloff) when commissioner Larry O’Brien decreed the signing of turncoat Pacer George McGinnis illegal on a “minor” technicality; Philly owned his NBA rights…and signed him to a 6-year, $3M guarantee.

     McGinnis’ representative (“Don’t call me an agent,” Irwin Weiner would bark) was the infamous, self-anointed “Dr. I” whose client list of ABA elite forwards also happened to include Erving…Billy Cunningham, too, if I’m not mistaken, at least for a while. At any rate, the 76ers somehow were the first to catch wind of Dr. J’s contract dissatisfaction.

     “When I heard the reports I immediately contacted Melchionni,” Williams recounted. “I asked if there was any chance the Nets might move him. He said ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ I told him if anything changes please call.”

     Two weeks later, Melchionni called.

     “What’ll take to get him?” Williams asked.t

      “Money…three million dollars in cash.”

     “What’ll it take to sign him?”

     “Three million dollars over six years.”

     In those days, 500G per was staggering. Bill Walton, for instance was banking 350G per while Moses Malone’s annual number was 300G.

      As soon as Williams got off the phone he called Fitz Dixon who had recently bought the team from Kosloff, and told him he had to see him “right now.” A blueblood from the mainline whose parents perished on the Titanic, Dixon lived and worked on Erdenheim Farms, Lafayette Hills, Pa. It was a 30-minute drive from the Sixer offices.

       Always very proper, Dixon, a part-owner of the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers at time or another but not big on basketball, said, “What’s going on, Pat?”

      “Julius Erving is available.”

     “Tell me, Pat, who is Julius Erving?

     “He’s the Babe Ruth of basketball.”

     “What will it take to get him?”

     Williams had trouble spitting out the answer.

      “Pat, are you recommending this deal?”

     “Yes, sir, I am.”

     “Well, you go get it done. That’s fine and dandy,” Dixon said, an expression he used whenever he was happy.

     Shortly thereafter, Williams and a battery of lawyers gathered at the 30th Street Train Station, bound for New York. Upon arriving they split up, one group headed east to Long Island to meet with Boe, the other group met with Weiner in a hotel at 33d street and Seventh Avenue, across from Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue.

     “We had two deals to close and this was before cell phones,” said Williams who handled negotiations with Weiner. “We worked all night until 8 a.m. and then celebrated with breakfast at the Yale Club.

     The same club Boe, a Yale graduate, regularly entertained, wheeled and dealed ; he probably never knew the 76ers had infringed on his territory and certainly never received an indemnity fee.

     Uh, oh, there was one other issue that nobody in the 76ers’ party had thought of until half past the giddiness. What if Larry O’Brien rejects the trade, abruptly exclaimed one party pooper?

     At the time, baseball was experiencing a pandemic of trade cancellations; Every time the Nets’ old foe, Charlie Finley, tried to sell an asset—Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi—commissioner Bowie Kuhn negated the transaction “for the good of baseball.”

     Teams usually mail contracts to the league office, but this was business as unusual. Williams scooped up the many documents and his group scrambled  20 blocks by cab to Olympic Tower at 645 Fifth Avenue and waited for O’Brien to appear at his workplace.

     “At one point during our explanation of Julius’ contract Larry referenced the Finley-Kuhn conflict, causing us all to shudder” Williams remembered. “A little later on he said, ‘I will not oppose the deal.”

     Julius Erving’s 76ers lost their first two games (Spurs at home, Braves in Buffalo) before getting it right; they went to The Finals where they lost to the Blazers in six games after winning the first two in Philly.

     The Nets, minus Archibald for all but 34 games due to a torn Achilles tendon, finished dead last (22-60) of 22 teams.

     Boe beat overwhelming odds a dozen years ago, recovering fully from cancer of the esophagus, which had to be removed in its entirety. Cancer of the lymph nodes appeared out of nowhere a couple years ago. Melchionni chuckled at the thought of anything slowing down his ex-boss and forever friend.

     “I spoke to him about a year or so ago. He told me he wanted to buy a Development League team and play at Hofstra.

     “He was a great guy, very sincere, very generous (he bankrolled my Holcombe Rucker, ABA-infested, Erving-Charlie Scott spearheaded team in the early ‘70s) and very interested and caring about the players. He’d do anything to make the team better and always tried to do the right thing.”

     Boe’s biggest fault was not having sufficient Monopoly money to dabble in two professional sports after selling Boe Jests, a women’s sportswear manufacturing company that sold its apparel to fine specialty stores nationwide. His ex-wife Deon was the designer-brains behind the outfit, whereas Roy was the won’t-take-no-for-an-answer salesman, who someone once wrote “could sell Avon products to Avon ladies.”el w

      Another drawback was not having enough partners with deep pockets. The merger put Boe in a box that coerced him to break up the Nets’ second of two championship teams.

     Brian Taylor was on the last year of his contract and Boe couldn’t afford to pay him what he wanted so the Nets traded him and Jumbo Jim Eakins to the Kansas City Kings for Archibald whose 400G yearly salary was owner-friendly; 150G cash, the rest deferred.

     During the summer of ’76, Weiner badgered Boe to give Erving a new and enhanced contract. “OK, fine,” Melchionni said, finally, “We’ll give you Tiny’s contract.” End of discussion.

     As a teenager, Amanda Boe, 50, sometimes longed for a June Cleaver-like family with a father who came home every day at six o’clock from work at Bristol Myers carrying a briefcase. “But I’ve come to realize if there wasn’t some of that madness I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That insanity and those wild rides helped to shape and temper me at the same time.”


     And now Amanda’s children and those of her siblings have the benefit of time to examine their grandfather’s risk-taking and judge him more clearly from a distance instead of basing everything purely on results.


     “You know what they say,” “Amanda allowed, “Children criticize, grandchildren revere.”


     She’s not the only philosophy major in the Boe Faulkner family. Recently Brad, 21, a Vanderbilt honor graduate offered Amanda an uncomplicated, non-judgmental perspective of his grandparents. “Your mom and Pop-Pop are very interesting. There are very few people in the world that are interesting.”


     “A mistake is just another way of doing something” Unknown

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