Former New York Nets owner / New York Islanders partner Roy Boe (above right, embracing Julius Erving) passed away last week at the age of 79, an occasion that caused much of the sports media to recall his sale of Erving to the Philadelphia 76’ers in 1976. Erving was the ABA’s biggest drawing card and the rival league’s most effective leverage in shoehorning 4 of their clubs into the NBA ; Dr. J’s depature is often regarded as one of the darker days in Nets history, but the New York Post’s Peter Vecsey testifies, “From the time he purchased the Nets in late May of 1969 until the day he sold it in late August of ’78, he did whatever it took to ensure the fan base never had a dull moment and the team was in it to win it.”
No owner was more responsible for influencing the NBA to accept the 2-time ABA champion Nets, Pacers, Spurs and Nuggets as equals than Boe. Mission accomplished! But it cost this imposing, prophetic, passionate, perservering man ultimate fame and his good name.
Inopportunely, he 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 10 years for the right to play in their backyard.
So, while Boe may 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 felt forced to move the franchise to Piscataway 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.
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, Nets 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 $3 million 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.”