The Man Behind the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy: From Politics to Athletics


Before assuming the role of NBA Commissioner in 1975, and later becoming the namesake of the NBA Finals Trophy, Larry O’Brien had been a significant figure in American politics. Born as Lawrence Frances O’Brien, Jr. in 1917, he began his political career campaigning as an eleven year old in 1928, and went on to become one of the leading electoral strategists within the US Democratic Party. After his start in 1928, he remained active and successful enough in politics to be approached by John Fitzgerald Kennedy with the request that he perform as his campaign manager during his race for Senator. After fulfilling his role exceptionally, Kennedy approached his former Senate campaign manager once again in 1959, to request that he perform as the campaign manager for his 1960 race for the presidential election. After Kennedy became the nation’s 35th president, he designated O’Brien as his special assistant. Following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, O’Brien remained on staff for Lyndon B. Johnson when he moved into the presidential position, then was appointed by Johnson to serve as the United States Postmaster General from 1965-1968, the end of Johnson’s presidential term.

In 1970, he was elected to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Convention – upon which he received an office at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. With the culmination of the Watergate scandal involving Nixon’s associates breaking into Watergate hotel offices, O’Brien became the subject of several conspiracy theories relating to the scandal and what actually took place. At this point in his career, in 1975, he accepted a job outside of politics – accepting the offer of appointment to fill the recently vacated position of NBA Commissioner, which had previously been filled by Walter Kennedy. He remained in that position until 1984, and was essential in contributing to many advancements in the realm of professional basketball – among them the realization of television revenues (which tripled) and game attendance (which doubled to as high as ten million) reaching all time highs during his time as commissioner. Other contributions he made to the advancement of professional basketball as we know it were the 1976 merger with the American Basketball Association; the modification of the college draft process in 1976; the implementation of the three-point field goal in 1979; the NBA’s first major television contract, with CBS Television, which secured a home for NBA games to enjoy prominent broadcasts; the introduction of NBA games to USA and ESPN on cable television in 1982; the negotiation of two notable collective bargaining agreements with the NBA Players Association, in 1976 (arranging fair system of free agency for veterans) and 1983 (reaching a strict anti-drug agreement with the NBA Players Association); and the introduction of the NBA College Scholarship program in 1980.

Upon his retirement from the position in 1984, the actual sports award for the NBA Finals was named after him, as the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. After his death in 1990, the Democratic National Convention also named a new service award after him in 1992, as the Lawrence O’Brien Award – “Lawrence” so as not to cause confusion with the “Larry” O’Brien award for the NBA Finals. In 1991, he was posthumously inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame.


Source by Andy McCarthy

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