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Peter Carry
October 16, 1972
They laughed when this former fruit and nut salesman bought a basketball team. Now it's the Nets who are chock-full of chuckles
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October 16, 1972

No Business Like Boe's Business

They laughed when this former fruit and nut salesman bought a basketball team. Now it's the Nets who are chock-full of chuckles

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Roy Lars Magnus Boe is a businessman plain and simple. He does not describe himself as a promoter or a financier or an entrepreneur, magnate, market analyst or wheeler-dealer. He is a little bit of all those things, but he calls himself a businessman just like folks used to do before the fancier terms were invented.

When Boe recounts a conversation about anything less mundane than the score of his lunchtime squash game at New York's Yale Club or his 15-year-old son Sam's love life, he usually describes it as "doing business." In fact, when Boe assesses the talents of other businessmen he never feels the need to bestow any admiring adjectives on those he regards with esteem. It is enough of an accolade for him to blurt out in his machine-gun style: "The man knows how to do business."

The fact that Roy Boe also knows how to do business is very good for him, since it is probably the thing that has saved him these past 3½ years since he put himself into a very unbusinesslike mess. In May 1969, Boe purchased the New York franchise of the American Basketball Association. The team had been known at various times as the New York Freighters and the New Jersey Americans. When Boe bought the club it was called—as it is today—the New York Nets. The Nets in May of 1969 were doing no business at all.

The Nets also were not doing much business in May of 1970 or even May of 1971. It was not until a Friday night in the spring of 1972 that, with one extraordinary victory, they became successful. The groundwork for that win and the fortuitous circumstances surrounding it were so well set that the Nets did not become merely successful, they became hugely so. Now there are few teams in pro basketball—and none in the ABA—that arc doing business like the Nets.

Boe's only recent contact with basketball before he bought the Nets had been as a season ticket holder at Madison Square Garden, where he watched the Knickerbockers. Before that—way before that—he had played one year of varsity basketball at the Englewood (N.J.) School. The son of Norwegian immigrants, he spent most of his time playing hockey during the winter. He was captain of the Englewood team as a senior, which by his criteria gives him unusually good credentials for his latest venture, owning a National Hockey League franchise. More pertinent qualifications are niceties Boe has routinely ignored.

At 42, he looks like the corporate man of the '50s in dark-hued suits and TV-blue shirts. His light-brown hair is close-cropped and sideburnless, and he keeps his 200-pound body in trim with squash and bowling during the winter and tennis in the summer. But appearances aside, Boe is not the Organization Man; he has worked only briefly—and unhappily—for others during his business career. In an earlier era he might have been a tough operator with a wagonload of elixir. In his own time Boe has plunged into food brokering, women's apparel and sports, and has been successful, to varying degrees, in each.

"I'm not a ponderer," he says. "I like to make fast decisions whether they're right or wrong. People tell me I'm impulsive and I guess they're right. I'm lousy at detail but I think I'm good at delegating authority, buoying up morale and convincing people to do things."

Boe was fresh from college and Korean war duty in 1953 when he met a tall, dark-haired young fashion designer named Deon Woolfolk. Neither was particularly impressed with the other. "I was interested in another guy when somebody introduced this boy who said he was a fruit and nuts salesman," Deon recalls. "I didn't pay much attention; it sounded like pretty dull stuff." Boe was enthused enough to get the girl's phone number. Still, he put the piece of paper in a pocket and forgot about it until a couple of weeks later. 'I vaguely remembered who she was," he says. "I gave her a call and asked her to ride out to Jones Beach with me and we were married at City Hall a couple of months later."

"When I got to know Roy a little I became very impressed," Deon says now. "He told me he planned to be a millionaire by the time he was 35. I didn't care about the money; neither of us had a sou at the time and I couldn't imagine that much money. What got me was that he had a purpose." Boe remembers no such precise plan but he very nearly fulfilled it nonetheless—with considerable help from Deon.

A couple of years after they were married the Boes moved to one of the wealthier enclaves of suburban Connecticut. They still live there with their five children in a huge, old, white wooden house that would look like an immense wedding cake if it were not surrounded by all manner of athletic gear. Deon, doubling as a housewife and young mother, ran a small fabric shop, designing and making her own clothes. One of the items she put together was a simple wraparound madras skirt. One day another shopkeeper saw the skirt and told Deon that if she could make more he could sell them. Within a couple of months the Boes had hired a manufacturer and were selling skirts to department stores in New York and other cities, and Roy had quit the food business. By the end of the first year, Mrs. Boe's wraparound skirts in madras and tweed had grossed $200,000. Four years later, after expanding into other sportswear items and swimsuits, many of them designed by Deon, the firm, called Boe Jests, was sold for several million. Roy Boe, who naturally ran the business side of the operation, was 36 years old.

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