Monday’s With Murray: Heirloom Hockey

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Kings honoured broadcasting legend Bob Miller with the unveiling of a statue in Star Plaza, just outside Staples Center, and a banner honouring him was raised inside the arena before the Kings played the Anaheim Ducks.

Miller retired last season after 44 years as the Kings play-by-play announcer.

Hockey Hall of Famers and retired Kings players were on hand to celebrate Miller, telling their own Bob Miller stories. Jim Fox, Miller’s broadcast partner since 1990, noted: “The stories to me about Bob are about Bob telling a story. It’s hard to explain this, but Bob was able to tell a joke, and laugh at his own joke. Some people who laugh at their own jokes are trying to be the center of attention. Bob isn’t. He genuinely thinks the joke is funny.”

Miller entertained and informed hockey fans on the air, much like Jim Murray did with the written word, for more than four decades.

The following Jim Murray column, written nearly 56 years ago, shines a light on the history of professional hockey in Los Angeles before the Kings organization was founded on June 5, 1967. Jack Kent Cooke was awarded an NHL expansion franchise on Feb. 9, 1966, becoming one of the six teams that began play in the 1967-68 season. The Kings played their home games at The Forum in Inglewood, California, for 32 years, until they moved to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles at the start of the 1999-2000 season.

The Kings have won two Stanley Cup championships, 2012 and 2014.




Heirloom Hockey

   Because I like to study the public papers of great men and to commune with the great minds of history, I was fascinated by the word from the summit in hockey published recently by a colleague, Morton Moss.

   This was a letter from Clarence Campbell, the resident giant intellect of the highest office of ice hockey who was handed the hottest puck in the game — “When is Los mondaysmurray2Angeles going to get major league hockey?” — and asked to stickhandle it through the crowd without making anybody mad or committing himself to do anything more than send out for a cup of coffee.

   Campbell, to no one’s surprise, iced the puck. His letter in answer was as long, bland and uninteresting as an ulcer diet. The meat of it explained that “the league’s position is that it is not actively promoting or encouraging expansion of the numbers of its members at this time. It has no commitments or plans to expand but it is prepared to consider each individual application on its own merits as and when such application is received.”

   English translation: We won’t sic the dogs on you when you come around, but go away quietly, will you?

   The Los Angeles Blades, who are the hockey equivalent of a seventh-place team in triple-A baseball, drew 26,657 fans to two hockey games here over the weekend with the cellar team in the league. The reception of the game in an area where the only time you see ice is when you order your Martini on the rocks is one of the sports astonishments of the year.

   Los Angeles is used to being kept waiting with its hat in its hands and its shoes polished in the anterooms of the reigning directors of professional sports. It stood around for years begging major league baseball to let it help save the game — at a time when the sport was about to go under the third time thanks to an annual all-New York World Series — while L.A. was functioning as the only city in the history of the game that supported TWO minor league teams. It pushed professional football into the big time after that sport had roamed around the country for years like a hat-passing minstrel show.

   The ‘National’ Hockey League makes a mockery of its title by restricting its franchises to six teams, waging a kind of private little tournament of 70 games just to eliminate two teams, whereupon, like basketball, it starts all over again in the playoffs. Hockey teams play each other so often, you get dizzy, and the players get so accustomed to each other’s moves they could probably play a game by mail.

   Television is not interested in hockey because the American public isn’t. Outside of the hard core of fans in the six centers where it is played, there is no one to shave in front of. To be sure, league president Clarence Campbell, who resides in Montreal, is not immediately concerned. The Montreal Forum would sell out for an intra-squad game of the Canadiens. The management holds out only a few hundred seats for day-of-game sale to accommodate fans whose grandfathers were not foresighted enough to buy season tickets back around the time of the first Roosevelt administration. When a will is contested in Montreal, chances are the litigants don’t want the money, they want the deceased’s Forum seats.

   But what is true in Canada is hardly true in the U.S. No one has had to beat off customers with a club at Madison Square Garden recently, and the Boston Bruins have occasionally had to put a notice in the papers explaining that a game was to be played and at what time. No team is so rich it couldn’t use the television money and the exposure.

   The Blades have had to do an artful selling job here in L.A. The embarrassment of having to offer its fans Canadian tank towns as worthy opposition to the third largest city on the continent has been successfully overcome, but no one seriously supposes customers will continue to clog the freeways to watch bush league hockey in a major league city even if it is the only game in town.

   The bugaboo is raised over the paucity of players. The obvious rebuttal is that a boy would have to be dull to take up a hockey stick instead of a football when he has a total of six markets in one to sell his skill and four times as many in the other. Other big money sports are expanding, but hockey likes it there in the back of the cave.

   Any businessman will tell you that in a dynamic economy you either grow or perish. Baseball had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of its rut. Football groped its way on the end of a short rope held by Dan Reeves. Hockey just can’t sit there in the dark forever braiding buggy whips.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116


What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

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