|Lawrence Francis O'Brien, Jr.|
|3rd Commissioner of the National Basketball Association|
|Preceded by||Walter Kennedy|
|Succeeded by||David Stern|
|57th United States Postmaster General|
November 3, 1965 – April 10, 1968
|President||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Preceded by||John A. Gronouski|
|Succeeded by||W. Marvin Watson|
|31st Chairman of the Democratic National Committee|
|Preceded by||John Moran Bailey|
|Succeeded by||Fred R. Harris|
|33rd Chairman of the Democratic National Committee|
|Preceded by||Fred R. Harris|
|Succeeded by||Jean Westwood|
|Born||July 7, 1917|
Springfield, Massachusetts, USA
|Died||September 28, 1990 (aged 73)|
New York City
|Alma mater||Northeastern University|
Lawrence Francis "Larry" O'Brien, Jr. (July 7, 1917 – September 28, 1990) was one of the United States Democratic Party's leading electoral strategists for more than two decades. He served as Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Lyndon Johnson.
Politics[edit | edit source]
O'Brien learned about politics at a young age. His father, a local leader of the Democratic Party, recruited him at 11-years-old to serve locally as a volunteer in the 1928 presidential campaign of Al Smith. O'Brien became a passionate Democrat and soon earned a bachelor's degree in law in 1942 at Northeastern University - a Springfield Division now known as the Western New England College School of Law.
O'Brien was appointed in 1952 by John F. Kennedy to serve in Massachusetts as the director of his successful U.S. Senate election campaign and, in 1958, to serve in Massachusetts as the director of his successful reelection campaign. His elections were largely attributed to O'Brien's recruitment and use of volunteers, and his development of a statewide election campaign.
He began in 1959 to build the foundation for Senator Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign by touring the United States.
O'Brien was appointed in 1960 by Sen. Kennedy to serve nationally as the director of his presidential campaign. His election planning in key primary states such as Wisconsin and West Virginia convinced many in the party that Sen. Kennedy's Catholicism wasn't a problem.
O'Brien developed a new presidential-campaign strategy for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) which became the standard for both parties. He collected information about each convention delegate and alternate delegate, and communicated frequently with each delegate's liaisons.
O'Brien was appointed in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve nationally as the director of his presidential campaign.
Committed to the principle that political parties are fundamental to the American political process, O'Brien was elected in 1968 and 1970 by the DNC to serve nationally as its chairman. His office was the primary target of the break-in at DNC headquarters in 1972, leading to the ensuing Watergate scandal. John H. Meier, a former business advisor to Hughes, collaborated with Hubert Humphrey and others to use Donald Nixon to feed misinformation to his brother, the President.
According to Meier, he told Donald that he was sure the Democrats would win the election since they had a lot of information on Richard Nixon’s illicit dealings with Howard Hughes that had never been released, and that Larry O’Brien had the information  (O’Brien didn’t actually have any documents but Meier wanted Richard Nixon to think he did). Donald then called his brother and told him that Meier gave the Democrats all the Hughes information that could destroy him (Richard Nixon) and that O’Brien has it.
This provided the President with the motivation to break into O’Brien’s office, as he wanted to see if anything was going to break before the election, and which led to the Watergate scandal.
During the 1972 Presidential election, O'Brien was a top adviser to George McGovern. During the Thomas Eagleton affair, his name was mentioned as a possible Vice-Presidential replacement. This position later went to Sargent Shriver.
The DNC Lawrence O'Brien Award was created in 1992 by his family and the Democratic Party leaders to acknowledge the many years of service he gave to the party and his belief in the importance of volunteer contribution.
Government[edit | edit source]
O'Brien was appointed in 1961 by President Kennedy to serve in Washington as the special assistant to the president for congressional relations and personnel. O'Brien was also responsible for awarding patronage. O'Brien was a member of President Kennedy inner circle of trusted advisors known in Washington as the "Irish Mafia".
He lobbied successfully during President Kennedy's first year for the expansion of the U.S. House of Representatives Standing Committee on rules to ensure a liberal and moderate majority. O'Brien also lobbied for increasing minimum wage.
He managed President Kennedy's activities in 1962 on behalf of the Democratic Party during its election campaigns.
O'Brien accompanied President and Mrs. Kennedy on their trip to Texas in November of 1963. The trip was part of the strategy for President Kennedy's run for re-election in 1964. O'Brien was to join the Kennedys at the Johnsons' ranch following the President's speaches and fund raising tour through state. After President John F. Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, O'Brien accompanied the President's coffin and Mrs. Kennedy back Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas. While aboard Air Force One, President Johnson called for O'Brien and Kenny O'Donnell (another Kennedy insider and member of the Irish Mafia) asking both of them to stay on and work with Johnson in his new administration. Although O'Brien had never been close to Johnson (and many writing including Johnson biographer Robert Caro report O'Brien did not like or trust Johnson and/or had openly made fun of Johnson), he remained at the White House and worked for the new President. President Johnson appointed O'Brien to serve as special assistant to the president for congressional relations and personnel. O'Brien continued this service through 1965.
O'Brien was appointed in 1965 by President Johnson to serve in Washington, D.C. as the U.S. Postmaster General. O'Brien continued this service through 1968.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery was named and opened in 2004 in his memory.
NBA Commissioner[edit | edit source]
He was appointed in 1975 by the National Basketball Association to serve nationally as its commissioner, where he directed the successful ABA-NBA merger that brought the American Basketball Association into the NBA, negotiated television-broadcast agreements with CBS Television, and saw game attendance increase significantly. He continued this service through 1984. In 1984, the NBA Championship Trophy was renamed in the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy, in honor of his service to the sport.
However, his league was troubled by public relations issues, especially after the merger. The NBA was looked down on by many fans and reporters, who believed that most NBA players used illegal drugs. O'Brien pushed for an anti-drug agreement with the NBA Players Association, which was later reached successfully.
O'Brien also pushed for the league to move its TV contract from ABC to CBS; in the aftermath of this, ABC Sports chief Roone Arledge decimated CBS' NBA ratings via counter-programming. CBS later used a new contract to move around, show on tape-delayed coverage (most famously Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals), or simply ignore NBA postseason games.
O'Brien was also generally pushed by his staff into many of his good decisions, including the expanded All-Star Weekend, most notably by current NBA commissioner David Stern. Many consider Stern the driving force behind expanded (and non-haphazard) TV contracts with CBS and cable networks and the rise in game attendance, as well as several crucial issues that predicated the rise of the NBA in the early 1980s.
NBA career highlights[edit | edit source]
- League expanded from 18 to 23 teams
- Coordinated the NBA's richest TV contract to date (1982)
- Brought the NBA to cable television (ESPN and USA) in 1982, establishing the league as a pioneer of cable TV
- Negotiated two landmark collective bargaining agreements (1976, 1983)
- Modified the college draft and restored peace to a league in the midst of legal turmoil (1976)
- Negotiated the ABA-NBA merger as the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and New York Nets joined the league and the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis were bought out and Virginia Squires folded
- Introduced salary cap (1983)
- Orchestrated the 1976 settlement of the Oscar Robertson suit, creating a fair and equitable system of free agency for veterans
- Annual NBA attendance reached 10 million during his tenure
- Gate receipts doubled and television revenue tripled during his time as commissioner
- Established NBA College Scholarship program (1980)
- Reached a stringent anti-drug agreement with the NBA Players Association (1983)
- Oversaw the adoption of the three-point field goal in the NBA (1979)
Quotations[edit | edit source]
- "Volunteers are essential to the success of any political campaign. There is no such thing as having a surplus of volunteers," O'Brien, 1960 campaign manual of President Kennedy.
- "I'm proud to be a politician. Politics is the art of the possible and it is an intensely personal art," O'Brien memoirs, No Final Victories.
References[edit | edit source]
- DuBois, Larry, and Laurence Gonzales (September 1976).Hughes Nixon and the C.I.A.: The Watergate Conspiracy Woodward and Bernstein Missed.Playboy.
- Bellett, Gerald (1995). Age of Secrets: The Conspiracy that Toppled Richard Nixon and the Hidden Death of Howard Hughes. Voyageur North America. ISBN 0-921842-42-2
- Halberstam, David (1999). Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World he Made. Random House. ISBN 0-7679-0444-3.
[edit | edit source]
- Basketball Hall of Fame: Lawrence O'Brien
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Lawrence O'Brien
- Oral History Interviews with Lawrence O'Brien, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
- John F. Kennedy Library and Museum: Lawrence O'Brien
- University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs: Lawrence O'Brien
John A. Gronouski
|United States Postmaster General
Served under: Lyndon B. Johnson
November 3, 1965 – April 20, 1968
W. Marvin Watson
|Party political offices|
John M. Bailey
|Chairman of the Democratic National Committee
Fred R. Harris
Fred R. Harris
|Chairman of the Democratic National Committee
1975 – 84