Roy Boe, whose brief ownership of the Islanders and Nets put Long Island on the map of big-time professional sports but whose sale of local legend Julius Erving overshadowed his influence on the NBA-ABA merger and led to his loss of both teams, died Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn. He was 79.
Boe, who lived in Fairfield, had been ill for some time, although Susan Boe, his eldest daughter, said his death was not related to his successful battle against cancer of the esophagus in the late 1990s.
Boe was a self-described "impulsive" entrepreneur, and his 1969 purchase of the Nets, then a struggling member of the fledgling ABA and playing in the less-than-luxurious Commack Arena, perfectly positioned him to land a 1972 NHL expansion franchise targeted for the new Nassau Coliseum as a gambit to outmaneuver the start-up World Hockey Association.
He quickly built a larger, younger following for the Nets by luring popular coach Lou Carnesecca from St. John's University and signing prolific scorer Rick Barry, and on Feb. 11, 1972, Boe's Nets officially opened the Coliseum for business. Several hundred seats still had not been installed and a hallway roof leaked, but the team was on its way to the ABA Finals that season (the Nets would lose to Indiana).
The Islanders debuted that October, 11 months after Boe was awarded the franchise and eight months after Boe hired general manager Bill Torrey, who would produce a playoff team in its third season and the first of four consecutive Stanley Cup trophies after only seven years.
Erving, the Roosevelt High star who came to be known as Dr. J for the way he "operated" on teams with spectacular airborne play, was signed in 1973 and immediately led the Nets to the first of two ABA championships in three seasons.
Erving's star power and Boe's connections were primary elements in forcing an NBA-ABA merger for the 1976-77 season. But Boe's expensive acquisition of flashy guard Tiny Archibald and the need to pay millions in NBA entry and indemnity fees led to his trading Erving to Philadelphia for $3 million - literally on the eve of the Nets' entry into the established league - rather than renegotiating Erving's seven-year, $1.9-million contract.
Two years later, Boe sold the Islanders to John O. Pickett just as the hockey team was on the verge of its championship run.
His Long Island connections continued with his ownership of The Patio Restaurant in Westhampton in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Roy Lars Magnus Boe, the son of Norwegian immigrants, was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 14, 1929, later moved to Alpine, N.J., and attended the Englewood School, where he played basketball and was captain of the hockey team.
A Yale University graduate - "He always said he was on the dean's 'other list,' " Susan Boe said - he served in the Korean War and worked in food brokering before establishing a successful women's apparel company, Boe Jests, with his first wife, Deon Woolfolk, who later would design the Nets' stars-and-stripe uniform.
Having first ventured into sports ownership in 1968, when he bought the minor-league Westchester Bulls football team and moved it to Hofstra, Boe resurfaced in the 1990s as owner of minor-league hockey teams in Worcester, Mass., and, most recently, the Islanders' farm team in Bridgeport.
Besides his daughter Susan, he is survived by his wife, Betty Broderick Boe, and four other children - Sam, Amanda, Todd and Kate.