(Long Island, NY) If you approached nine out of 10 fans at either a New York Islanders or New Jersey Nets game, they probably would tell you that they have never heard of Roy Boe. Without him, neither franchise would be in existence today and it was a great loss for all of us when Boe passed away this week in Connecticut at the age of 79.
Back in 1969, Boe’s purchase of a fledgling basketball team in an unstable league began what would eventually result in multiple championships not only on the hard wood, but the ice, as well.
The story began two years earlier when a franchise was awarded in the newly formed American Basketball Association to be known as the New Jersey Americans. When the Teaneck Armory was unavailable for their playoff game, they found an opening at the Long Island Arena in Commack. Although the venue was a disaster, the team decided to stay put and became the New York Nets the following season.
They finished 44 games under .500 and struggled to average 1,000 fans a game, prompting owner Arthur Brown to dump the team off on a women’s clothing manufacturer with no prior experience in the sports industry. That hardly made a difference and a guy selling blouses quickly made the switch to changing the entire outlook of the organization, practically overnight.
Boe found a new home at the Island Garden in West Hempstead and acquired Rick Barry from the Virginia Squires. Attendance was up to over 3,500 per game and that set the owner up for bigger and better things.
Contingent on the construction of a new arena, Boe was awarded an expansion team in the National Hockey League, for which he hired Bill Torrey as general manager. By 1972, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum had two tenants – the Nets and the Islanders. That same season, the Nets made it to the ABA Finals before losing to the Indiana Pacers, but their biggest moment came during the 1973 offseason when they acquired Julius Erving, a Long Island native and perhaps the most exciting player in basketball history.
Dr. J won the ABA MVP that first season back home and guided the Nets to the league championship. Erving repeated both feats two years later in what was to be the final season of the rival league before four of its teams merged into the NBA. While that may have seemed like a scenario for success, the end result was just the opposite.
With a total of $8 million in payments for league insertion and territory fees (to the Knicks), Boe needed to make a drastic decision literally on the eve of the franchise’s first game in the NBA. He sold Erving’s contract to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million, which put the team in a tailspin that resulted in a league-worst 22-60 record. A year later, the Nets returned to their roots and moved back across the Hudson River.
It was around that same period of time that things started to look up for Boe’s other team. The Islanders qualified for the playoffs for the first time after the 1974-75 campaign and knocked out the rival Rangers in the best of three first round.
Although the team had started to come into its own, economics were still an issue with Boe, as he had an even bigger bill to pay to get his hockey team off the ground. By 1978, he had sold the team to John Pickett, who enjoyed the Islanders’ dynasty that resulted in four consecutive Stanley Cups beginning in 1980.
But none of the six titles – including the two by the Nets – would have ever happened if not for Boe, who may have been in over his head but surely made more than a dent on the sports landscape.