Who is Larry O’Brien? The Legacy Behind the NBA Championship Trophy

After three games, the Boston Celtics lead 3-0 in the 2024 NBA Finals. Unless the Dallas Mavericks can rewrite the record books, everything points to Joe Mazzulla’s dominating team being crowned kings of the NBA …

who is larry o'brien

After three games, the Boston Celtics lead 3-0 in the 2024 NBA Finals. Unless the Dallas Mavericks can rewrite the record books, everything points to Joe Mazzulla’s dominating team being crowned kings of the NBA and hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. While it may not be as popular, and its name may not be as renowned as the Lombardi Trophy, most NBA fans know what the piece of hardware given out at the end of the NBA Finals is called. How did Larry O’Brien make his name?

Many probably don’t know that Larry O’Brien didn’t dedicate his life to basketball. There are no records of O’Brien ever even having played a serious game of basketball in his life. The Springfield, Massachusetts native made his name in politics.

A Political Prodigy: Larry O’Brien’s Early Career

Larry O’Brien served the Democratic Party for over two decades as one of their top electoral strategists. He was the United States Postmaster General and was named to President Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet in the mid-60s. O’Brien was also one of the top campaign advisors to the Kennedys and George McGovern in the 60s and 70s. His skills in political strategy and leadership were well recognized, leading to his eventual crossover into sports management.

The NBA Commissioner: Larry O’Brien’s Transformative Era

With his legacy cemented in politics and his leadership abilities unquestioned, the NBA knocked at a particularly fragile time. They named him the third commissioner of the league, replacing J. Walter Kennedy in 1975. As commissioner, he drove the ABA-NBA merger, which would eventually grow the league from 18 teams to 23.

O’Brien also negotiated a multimillion-dollar TV deal with CBS that would bring the company to new heights and reach more American living rooms with greater ease. Not only did the television audiences grow under his time as commissioner, but stadium attendance skyrocketed. Gate receipts for teams around the league doubled, and the NBA’s popularity reached new heights. One of the most important rule changes in O’Brien’s time was the introduction of the three-point field goal in 1979.

From Walter A. Brown to Larry O’Brien: Evolution of the Trophy

Before there was a Larry O’Brien trophy, the NBA would award its champion the Walter A. Brown Trophy. That piece of hardware was only lent to the winning teams until the following year, when the new winners would hold on to it, much like the Stanley Cup.

That trophy lasted from 1947 until 1976. In 1977, the league came out with a modified trophy named after their commissioner Larry O’Brien. Bill Walton and the Portland Trail Blazers were the first team to hoist the newly made-over hardware, who beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Since then, the Los Angeles Lakers have lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy more than any franchise since the ‘77 season, having won 11 titles.

The Iconic Design: Crafting the Larry O’Brien Trophy

Victor Solomon and Tiffany & Co. teamed up to create and remodel most of the trophies given out in the 2023 NBA season. At the All-Star break, the new Kobe Bryant trophy was awarded to the game’s MVP. The Conference Finals MVP trophies had been introduced, with Nikola Jokic winning the Magic Johnson trophy for MVP of the Western Conference Finals and Jimmy Butler winning the Larry Bird trophy as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP.

While there were slight modifications made to the Larry O’Brien, Solomon said that the silhouette of the trophy is too iconic to be changed. Instead, it was just tilted the slightest bit forward, and there were some minor upgrades to the detail of the net. While the look may be slightly adjusted, what the trophy means to the players and the fans will not change.

Larry O’Brien’s Lasting Impact on the NBA

At the start of each NBA season, a few contenders hold the same ultimate goal: Capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The golden trophy is the reward for the team that can survive the rigors of an 82-game regular season and the brutal grind of an NBA Playoff run. Even casual basketball fans are familiar with its iconic look and have seen many legends share unforgettable moments with the trophy after the final buzzer sounded.

Conclusion: Celebrating Larry O’Brien’s Legacy

Long before he was recognized for his contributions to the NBA, Larry O’Brien had a successful career in politics. He served as a campaign director for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and he was also the national chairman of the Democratic Party (1968-69, 1970-72) and postmaster general (1965-68).

O’Brien made the jump to sports in 1975, becoming the third commissioner of the NBA after Maurice Podoloff and J. Walter Kennedy. He held that position for nearly a decade, overseeing the expansion of the league from 18 to 23 teams, the merger of the American Basketball Association with the NBA, and the adoption of the 3-point line.

Perhaps most importantly, NBA games became more widely available to watch on television during O’Brien’s tenure, though his successor, David Stern, certainly deserves credit for turning the league into a global brand. O’Brien, who died in 1990, was posthumously inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.

FAQ about Larry O’Brien

Who is Larry O’Brien?

Larry O’Brien was a prominent political strategist for the Democratic Party and later became the NBA Commissioner, known for his significant contributions to the growth and popularity of the league.

What did Larry O’Brien achieve as NBA Commissioner?

As NBA Commissioner, O’Brien oversaw the ABA-NBA merger, expanded the league, introduced the three-point line, and significantly increased TV viewership and stadium attendance.

Why is the NBA championship trophy named after Larry O’Brien?

The trophy was named after Larry O’Brien in recognition of his impactful tenure as NBA Commissioner, during which he helped transform the league into a major sports entity.

Who created the current design of the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

The current design of the Larry O’Brien Trophy was crafted by Victor Solomon in collaboration with Tiffany & Co., incorporating sterling silver and 24-karat gold.

What is the historical significance of the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

The Larry O’Brien Trophy symbolizes the pinnacle of success in the NBA, awarded annually to the league’s champion, and has become an iconic piece of sports history.

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