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EASTSIDER LARRY O'BRIEN
EASTSIDER LARRY O'BRIEN
Commissioner of the National Basketball Association

2-16-80

Fame rests lightly on the shoulders of Larry O'Brien, who was raised on politics in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and never sought elective office for himself, yet became one of the Democratic Party's most influential spokesmen for nearly two decades.

As a campaign manager, he propelled John F. Kennedy into the Senate and then into the White House. He served as postmaster general under President Johnson from 1965 to 1968, and was twice named chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a post traditionally given to the party's foremost political strategist. His name loomed large in the Watergate hearings, for it was O'Brien whose office was broken into by the original Watergate burglars.

He was in the news again in 1974, when, having retired from politics, he published his autobiography, No Final Victories. Expecting to be out of the public eye after that, O'Brien was astonished to be offered the job of commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Now midway through his fifth season, he has not only resolved the major disputes that threatened the future of professional basketball, but has brought a new vitality to the sport.

The NBA's headquarters, a plush suite of office high above Fifth Avenue, is silent and practically empty on the afternoon of my appointment with the commissioner. A gregarious host, he talks about basketball and politics for nearly two hours in his effusive manner, while chain-smoking low-tar cigarettes. He is a hearty, husky man with a basso voice that rarely alters in pitch, and is as casual as a bartender.

Brought up in the town where basketball was invented, the son of Irish immigrants, he worked his way through law school by tending bar in his father's cafe in the daytime and taking classes at night. One of the most trusted of politicians, known for his uncommon organizational abilities and his gift for compromise, O'Brien is a fascinatingly long-winded conversationalist who speaks with many digressions.

"The sports commissioner is somewhat unique. First of all, you are paid by the owners, and you are expected to be as responsive as you can to the fans — to do everything possible to ensure that the game is presented in the best conceivable way to the fans, and the most exciting and interesting manner, because after all, this is business."

During the Kennedy and Johnson White House years, he served as presidential liaison to Congress and helped win passage of the Peace Corps, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As commissioner, his authority is all-powerful. "It goes to supervision of every aspect of the game, on and off the court," he explains. "It goes to determining even what ............
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