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Bob Briner
April 19, 1971
When he plotted the take-over of pro tennis, the author envisioned immediate riches. Instead he found the sport produced only headaches and a girl who was Leslie Howard's grandfather
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April 19, 1971

But It Looked Like A Great New Racket

When he plotted the take-over of pro tennis, the author envisioned immediate riches. Instead he found the sport produced only headaches and a girl who was Leslie Howard's grandfather

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Bob Briner is a modern Marco Polo, for he has traveled among strange and distant peoples and conic back to tell his tale. Briner's adventure took place in the world of tennis. First under Dave Dixon, who conceived the organization, and then under Lamar Hunt, Briner helped inn World Championship Tennis for almost two years, from its inception late in 1967 until he left to enter private business in September 1969.

When he first came to tennis he was unknown, but Briner's departure was viewed with almost universal regret; he was considered in main quarters the only logical choice to be the sport's first commissioner. Now just 35, Briner is the executive vice-president of the Texas Chaparrals of the American Basketball Association, a position he assumed at the start of 1971.

Until I became involved in Dave Dixon's plot to take over professional tennis, I had never seen an official match in my life. less than a year later I was one of the two or three most powerful tennis brokers in the world.

While I can assure you that no past experience can prepare a man for this position, I was definitely out of my element. I had come to New Orleans from the office of the Miami Dolphins to work under Dixon on the commission that was seeking to bring a domed stadium to New Orleans. Before that I had been a coach and an athletic director al several schools and small colleges in the Midwest, where I suppose I was associated with every sport but tennis. Sometimes I think I must be trying to gain working experience in as many sports as Lamar Hunt owns.

The tennis job began all at once on Saturday, July 22, 1967. The date is worth pinpointing for posterity because it was at that moment that the game of tennis, as it had been known up till then, ended. The sport today, with the emphasis on professionals and open tennis, with large amounts of legal prize money and greater public acceptance, was effectively created that afternoon in New Orleans by Dave Dixon.

Dave, who is now back running the stadium commission, is a brilliant man, with the most imaginative mind that I have ever encountered. His only trouble is that he spews out so main ideas on a regular basis that he has difficulty discerning the good ones from the bad. That afternoon lie was absorbed in a magazine article. It was, in fact, one that appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (July 24, 1967), a piece about the pro tennis tour, such as it was at that tune. Dave finished the article, leaned back in his living-room chair, and I swear this is exactly what he said: "Bob, we're going to take over tennis and make a fortune at it." By the time I left his house that afternoon, we had the principles of the coup laid out sufficiently to have arrived at the conclusion that we would make $17,000 profit every week from the venture. As a starter, $17,000 a week.

Dave gave me the job of finding out where the pro tour was. Obviously, if you were going to take something over and, as a starter, make $17,000 a week off of it, it was imperative that you at least make contact with this something. I didn't know it at the time, but this is where things get tough in tennis. Contacting people. On this occasion I was literally unable to locate pro tennis for three days. At last I discovered that it was hidden out in the mountains near Binghamton, N.Y. The first person Dave and I saw (there being precious few spectators) was Dennis Ralston. Neither of us had the slightest inkling of who he was, which is of some interest because a couple months later we both quit our jobs and founded World Championship Tennis to build a tour strictly around Dennis Ralston.

I guess that suburban Binghamton was as good a place as any to drop off into never-never land, and that is what tennis is. I am not kidding when I say that one of the hardest things in the game is to contact people. It used to take me days, for instance, to reach Bob Malaga, the executive director of the USLTA. And I had just as much trouble getting hold of my pro colleague, George MacCall, who ran the National Tennis League, which then featured Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzales.

On the occasions when I could contact both MacCall and the USLTA and arrange a meeting, it was hardly worth the effort. I'm sure that the North Korean peace talks offer more in the way of rational, fruitful dialogue, and those negotiations have been going on for almost two decades with no apparent result. I can remember a series of meetings that George and I the pros had with Malaga and Bob Kelleher, then the president of the USLTA. Before we sat down, Kelleher and MacCall would be arguing about how MacCall blew the Davis Cup a couple years before when he was captain—or something equally germane. Malaga and I would end up just sitting there while MacCall and Kelleher screamed. Finally, I just stopped going lo the meetings.

Usually, contacting someone in tennis was only half the battle, even if it did take you weeks. Tennis people are not like those in any other business activity. Give me a normal business adversary over a tennis ally anytime. Tennis people never seem to have anywhere to go or anything to do. There were main times when I had an urgent situation staring me in the face, but nobody would see me. People only wanted to meet me in Monte Carlo, San Juan, Rome, Paris—months from now. I often wondered whether they made the same suggestion to the guy from the hank who called up about a late mortgage payment.

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