Tuesday, May 21, 2024 May 21, 2024
87° F Dallas, TX

This white guy can Jump

From Dallas to Seattle to Cleveland to Zaragoza, Spain, Terry Murphy is spreading the Hoop-lt-Up gospel. Kids love it. Old guys with bad knees love it. So do Nike, AT&T, NBC, the NBA...

LAST WEEKEND IT WAS Salt Lake City, Mormon country, home of teams like The Last of the Redeye Knights, Boyz That Make You Go Hmmm, and the Shaboinkin Tripods: almost 1,500 teams, more than 5,000 players pounding the asphalt in hot, beerless streets. The U.S. Census Bureau does not measure player-to-citizen penetration ratios, but that’s a lot of streetballers for a city of fewer than 160,000 people. Next week, the big trucks take the show to three tournaments in one weekend: Sacramento, Amarillo and the big one on Long Island. There, another thousand or so teams of amateur hoopsters-the good, the bad, the airborne, the earth-bound and the heart-attack poster boys-are set to rattle the rims.

Yesterday Dallas, the Holy City of Streetball with more than J 3,000 players this year. Tomorrow-who knows?- Toronto, South America, Australia. But today it’s Cleveland, and Terry Murphy, the chairman, CEO and creative spirit of Hoop-It-Up, America’s fastest-growing (and Europe’s newest) three-on-three basketball tournament, is not a happy man. He is the boss, Mr. Big Idea, but he is also the admiral who clambers down to inspect the bilge pumps, the head chef who pokes a linger into the basil-flecked chutney sauce. Murphy goes from macro- to micro-managing with the speed of Michael Jordan storming the glass. A minute ago he was talking Big Picture: his budding alliance with the National Basketball Association, expansion strategies, going head-to-head with a rival tournament in Indianapolis next month, Now he’s realized that something is wrong.

Not that this is anything new. The 26 staffers at Murphy’s Dallas-based Streetball Partners Inc. know that at some point during each tournament their leader will sense an impending snafu and announce, as he always does, that things have fallen apart. Murphy believes in “management by frenzy,” he says, and 15 minutes before registration is to open for Cleveland’s fourth annual Hoop-It-Up, it’s frenzy time at Nautica. a Starplex-comes-to-the-West End setting on the banks of Cleveland’s infamous Cuyahoga River. The river, once so polluted that it actually caught fire, flows cold and choppy today. It’s Murphy who’s nearing spontaneous combustion.

The problem is names. Take 1,220 teams, up from 800 last year. (’That’s 50 percent annualized growth,” Murphy points out.) With tour players to a team (three on the court and a sub) that’s about 4,800 Clevelanders, and several hundred of them are now chafing behind a locked gate nearby. Weeks before, the players were semiscientifi-cally seeded into dozens of divisions according to three variables: age, height and previous experience. It’s that roughly egalitarian system-pitting ex-college banger vs. ex-college banger, air potato vs. air potato-that’s helped push Hoop-It-Up into 40 American cities and Zaragoza, Spain.

Now the weeks of planning are over. A hotshot local promoter has whipped up a storm of publicity. Scores of volunteers stand ready to monitor games. work the scoreboard and peddle hot dogs. Local politicians and media celebs will embarrass themselves for charity (this weekend, Juvenile Diabetes and the Cleveland Plain Dealer Foundation).

The players, representing Ernie’s Pub. The Sexecutioners, the 68th Street Chuckers, the Neon Armadillos From Hell and hundreds more teams are here to pick up official Hoop-It-Up T-shirts, rule books, info packets and the other paraphernalia needed for a weekend of fun. camaraderie. sharp elbows, muttered curses, bloody knees and glory. Let’s go. Let’s do it…

But where are the damned names? At Hoop-It-Ups from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Tampa, participants queue up before a long bulletin board on which are posted names, teams and divisions. Find your name, and you know which line to join for your materials. Without those names, chaos looms. And Murphy has just learned that the names are not here. A Dallas staffer is supposed to be flying in with them. Someone has gone to pick her up at the airport. The system has broken down, and Murphy, commandeering a portable phone, has a few words for the home office.

“What’s happened?” he barks to Dallas. “We could have had this done a day or two ago, right? The system has failed because we didn’t get it done in time. You know what I’m saying?”

Apparently, Dallas doesn’t know what he’s saying. “No, I am not kidding,” Murphy goes on. “You can’t believe what this is going to do to us. We now have several hundred people who aren’t going to know what the f- is going on because we can’t tell them. I do not want this to happen next week. If this happens in Long Island, we’re dead.”

Murphy’s last words to Dallas are drowned out by the classic old-gold, nonstop rock booming from the speakers overhanging what will be center court when play starts at 8 in the morning. Clapton’s dying screech to “Layla” drifts toward nearby Lake Erie. A velvet-voiced female DJ makes 55 degrees and a 50 percent chance of rain tomorrow seem like a delightful adventure. But when he surrenders the phone. Murphy doesn’t look like a man braced for disaster.

“It isn’t as bad an I made it sound,” he says, breaking into an impish grin.

And it isn’t. After vamping for about 15 minutes-the names are indeed on the way-Murphy opens the gate, sketches the problem for the crowd and urges them to come on in, “casually.” That brings some good-natured jeering (“casually, casually”) from the players. Murphy and a volunteer, working from a makeshift alphabetized list, start directing traffic. A brisk wind threatens to send names like Kerchenski, Keulik, Kijauskas, Kozleuchar and Kozlowski scudding down the Cuyahoga. Many are confused, but Murphy soothes them with practiced locker-room banter.

Player: “We had a guy drop out yesterday. Can we replace him?”

Murphy: “Yes, but the new guy has to be less than 6-6.”

Player: “How about the Quarter Pounders? They any good?”

Murphy: “Two guys over 30 and one guy 19. But he plays over the rim.”

Player: “I’m on Da Kareem Team, division 46. What kind of division is that?”

Murphy: “Shockingly pathetic. Two of your players were brought here in an ambulance.”

An hour later, the moment of management frenzy has passed. Murphy joins Tim Cline. his vice president of events, and several other Hoop-It-Up personnel in an informal shoot-around on center court. They’re supposed to be checking the court for dead spots, but Murphy clearly enjoys just having a basketball in his hands. At 52, the 6-3 Murphy still has die confident shuffle of a former college jock, a standout volleyball player but a mediocre, bench-bound basketball player at San Jose State. He often jokes that it was his unrequited love for basketball that led him to create the first Hoop-D-Do in 1986, when he was publisher of this magazine.

According to Hoop-It-Up lore. Murphy and Bob Cohen, then director of marketing services for D, got the idea for a three-on-three tournament from a Sports Illustrated article on the venerable Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, a Michigan-based operation mat now serves 44 cities, mostly smaller markets.

“So Murphy just said, ’Let’s do it,’” recalls Cohen, who is now station manager for KAJA radio in San Antonio. “That’s Murphy. He had no idea about any of the details or the complexities. Just, ’Let’s do it.’ “

Some 481 teams signed up for the June debut of Hoop-D-Do in the West End, despite skeptics who envisioned a fleet of ambulances hauling off the heatstroke vic-tims. The notion of bringing streetball to the broiling Dallas streets was unorthodox, but those who have worked with Murphy praise his flair for the offbeat idea. He’s no garden-variety businessman, they say; and what he lacks in B-school acumen, he makes up for with a quick, grasping mind; a quirky, spontaneous sense of humor; and a passionate commitment to spreading streetball around the globe.

“He’ll throw out an idea that would seem preposterous coming from anyone else,” says Bob Cohen. ’Then he’ll package it in a way that even if it fails, it’ll be the greatest time you ever had.”

“He’s a wonderfully innovative guy,” says Kevin Monaghan, director of new business for NBC, which recently acquired 40 percent of Hoop-It-Up and will televise the International Hoop-It-Up finals from Dallas on November 14. Monaghan calls Murphy “a visionary” and compares him to Fred Lebow, who dreamed up the New York Marathon. But Murphy’s recent expansion into Europe, Monaghan recalls, was not instantly popular with NBC telecrats.

“Somebody here said that we would lose money on it, that Murphy just wanted to go around the world and sprinkle his dust,” Monaghan says. “But because Terry was Terry, he did it, and it made money. If you had left it up to the more conventional guys, we would have killed it. But he’s a genius.”

CENTER COURT HAS A FEW dead spots-in fact, its location in a concert amphitheater gives it a decided slope toward the basket. But Murphy isn’t complaining. “That’s the sacrifice you make if you want to seat three or four thousand people for the finals,” he says.

The earlier snafu notwithstanding, Murphy’s role at most tournaments these days is that of Ambassador of Streetball. In a recent two-week period, he flew to St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Jose. Sacramento and Los Angeles. He schmoozes with NBA stars who drop in to dazzle the crowds; he chats with the media. telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he’ll concede Michigan to Gus Macker- “And Til take the lower 49.”

Murphy will be up before dawn tomorrow pushing backboards into place, but that’s due more to esprit de corps than a lack of able bodies. He’s built a staff of smart, competent young people (the average age is under 30) including Cline: senior VP of events Bob Elliott; marketing chief Tad Brown; and president and financial whiz kid Doug Jarvie.

It was Jarvie’s father Chuck, a wealthy investor, who came to Murphy’s rescue after the 1989 season left Hoop-It-Up more than $250,000 in debt. Some observers say that the younger Jarvie was installed as a bean-counting watchdog, but Murphy says his operation is much stronger now that he can rely on the Jarvies’ financial wisdom. For their part, the Jarvies heap praise on Murphy.

“He was undercapitalized and didn’t have the management help.” says Chuck Jarvie. “We’ve brought some day-to-day structure and stability. But the whole thing came out of his drive, tenacity and character, which is excellent. It’s as if Michelangelo needed a business manager. We make sure he’s got enough paint, and he’s putting it inside the frame.”

The result is an operation that, as Kevin Monaghan puts it, “lets Terry be Terry.” Murphy’s free to act as the Johnny Apple-seed of streetball, planting his idea in new cities every year and tending to the “overall look and feel” of the Hoop-It-Up experience. Like a political candidate, Murphy wants one dominant image, one unified message coming out of his enterprise. That’s not easy to manage, because Hoop-It-Up from its beginnings has been a congeries of opposites and contradictions. It’s at once a source of good clean fun, a forum where different races and classes can slam and jam in harmony, a boon for charities, a gold mine for merchants and now a marketing bonanza so potentially lucrative that NBC and the National Basketball Association (Murphy’s newest partner) want a piece of the action.

Murphy’s success stems from the ability to see Hoop-It-Up as all these things at once. When he’s thinking of his baby, as he usually is, he’s thinking kids. fun. money, civic pride, megajocks. spinoff possibilities, photo ops, T-shirt sales and more.

That multiple vision let Murphy see, for example, that he didn’t want a major beer sponsor permanently bonding with Hoop-It-Up. Such a partnership would have hurt him in Salt Lake City, of course, but not just there. In Huntington Beach and other cities, park and recreation departments get involved in the tourna-ments. And everywhere, minors make up many of the teams.

“I never wanted to see a newspaper photo of 13-year-old kids playing on a court emblazoned with Bud Dry.” Murphy says. “That’ll just get everybody in trouble.” So, when local beer sponsors are involved. Murphy has a system to avoid those embarrassing photos: Beer sponsors fly their flags on even numbered courts, while kids play on odd numbers. The systern works even in St. Louis, where half the players are below drinking age and Anheuser-Busch is a major sponsor.

That line of thinking also rules out smoking products, hard liquor (“as much as I’d love to have Jose Cuervo”) and other controversial items. Murphy admits he’s been approached by condom manufacturers, but he turned them down. ’They even had a gimmick for us. Remember me old driveway game of Horse? Well, how about ’Trojan Horse?’ Uh. no thanks. We’re for safe sex and sex education, but some things just don’t work for us.”

As night falls and registration closes. Murphy. Cline and others head for Cleveland’s idea of a Mexican restaurant. A connoisseur of the higher tequilas. Murphy has been known to seal deals with a handshake and a bottle of Sauza Très Generaciones. Now, wielding a pitcher of margaritas, he holds court at the head of a long table before pausing to phone his wife, Linda, in Dallas. She directs the Hoop-It-Up events in Dallas, but this isn’t a business call: Murphy wants to say goodbye to his youngest daughter, Cassidy, who leaves tomorrow for the College of Charleston. His oldest child, Doug, is a Middlebury College graduate whose expensive private school education prepared him to play in an Atlanta rock band called Tree.

Murphy’s other daughter, Erin, is a senior at TCU whose entrance there was endorsed-sort of-by Ross Perot. Seems that while at D Murphy, seeking to enhance Erin’s chances of acceptance. obtained a few sheets of the billionaire’s personal stationery, using an excuse about a photo essay on power communicators. Murphy then wrote a glowing recommendation for his daughter, signed Perot’s name and mailed it off to TCU. Asked about the story. Murphy shrugs and flashes his mischievous grin. “Well, it worked.”

BY THE TIME PLAY STARTS THE next morning. Murphy has been on site since 4 a.m., helping to position more than 90 backboards in a vast parking lot bordered by several restaurants. To the south, the sky is filled with ominous clouds. Upbeat despite the dark circles under his eyes. Murphy watches a couple of games at center court, where the tournament’s top players strut their stuff.

“Look at her drive,” Murphy laughs as one girl blurs toward the basket. The J&J Food Connection, last year’s national champions in Hoop-It-Up’s female division, need only a few minutes to demolish their first opponent, 16-3.

Later, cruising the grounds. Murphy points to an all-white girls team playing an all-black girls team. “This may be the only time these girls ever cross paths in their lives,” Murphy says. That claim-of racial chasms bridged by sport-is a constant in Hoop-It-Up literature, and even a casual visitor to a Hoop-It-Up will notice that the schedule often acts as a melting pot for racial groups that may not spend many weekends together. For that matter, it’s not unusual to find teams of bankers and lawyers grunting and sweating against postal workers and cops.

Given the country’s race and class segregation, this is no small feat, though it would be unfair to expect a basketball tournament to solve society’s problems or to be entirely free of racial tension itself. While the vast majority of Hoop-It-Up tournaments pass without unpleasant incidents, crowds of hecklers shouted across racial lines in Richmond earlier this year, and court monitors stopped play after whites and blacks got too physical under the boards. Indeed, moments after the ebony-and-ivory girls’ game ends with smiles and handshakes, an angry white man approaches Murphy and Cline to gripe about being knocked down by a black opponent.

“He told me, ’That’s how we do it in the ghetto.’ I told ’im this ain’t the fin1 ghetto, friend.”

Knowing that hot sun, asphalt and tempers can lead to trouble. Murphy has taken steps over the years to minimize friction. Players on the regular courts still call their own fouls, usually following a rough “no blood, no foul” rule. But a two-point shot from behind the circle (Hoop-It-Up goals count one) was added to cut down on heavy traffic under the boards. Recently, Murphy created his own death penalty for rowdies: the dreaded Samuelson Rule, intended “to rid Hoop-It-Up of players who look and act like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear” Upon a second warning by a court monitor or other official (i.e., any Hoop-It-Up staffer who sees the violation), players are disqualified for one game. After one more warning the team is bounced from the tournament, no refunds allowed.

That is, unless the players invoke The Samuelson Rule, named after the bald U.S. Olympic volleyball player whose teammates shaved their heads to protest his being penalized. If the offenders agree to shave their heads at center court, they get one more chance. Otherwise, adios.

Murphy considers applying the Samuelson Rule here, but a bigger problem is coming down: rain, first in cold, fat droplets, then quickly in sheets. As players scurry to their cars and volunteers hustle to secure tent flaps, a two-hour delay is announced. An hour later, the forecast is bleaker: Saturday is a washout. All players are to report back at 8 in the morning.

A total loss? Maybe not. Soaked, Murphy grabs a phone to call Dallas. He wants Pain Rapkin, his media-relations person, to get on the line to the newspaper and a Cleveland TV station. If all 4,800 players show up in the morning, someone could take the largest basketball team photo in the history of the world. Why waste an opportunity?

A FEW HOURS LATER. AFTER A short nap and a long meeting with a dogged job seeker. Murphy settles in at a local sports bar for a look back at the day and the making of Hoop-It-Up. He’s long past stewing over the rain, which has interrupted 14 tournaments so far this year- including Dallas, where a fierce summer squall wiped out most of the Saturday games. Still, he shakes his head and muses after a sip of beer.

“You take four-and-a-half hours to set up. You play two hours. Then you need an hour and a half to break down. It’s kinda nuts, isn’t it?”

That’s what Murphy sometimes said to himself back in the uncertain days of 1988, after his departure from D. Hoop-D-Do had quickly taken off in Dallas, but that was three days a year, not a career. After putting in 12 years with Time, Inc. and five with D, Murphy knew he didn’t want “just another job.” To the consternation of some Hoop-D-Do board members, Murphy made it clear that he was restless; he wanted to go beyond Dallas and the tournament’s ties with its official charity, the Special Olympics. But to take his baby outside Dallas, he needed a heavyweight national sponsor. And the doors weren’t swinging open.

“You’re flying around the country on your own money and you have no income.” Murphy recalls. “Hoop-D-Do was just sitting there, this precious resource, and I knew that if I didn’t make this work, someone else would. It was too obvious an opportunity.”

But it wasn’t so obvious in the land of corporate giants. “I’m calling on the Bud-weiser guy, and he’s getting 80 or 90 proposals a day, from the Yakima Little League and the Northern Minnesota Ice Boat Racing Championships. And here’s this asshole out of Dallas who wants to play streetball.”

After months of crisscrossing the country. Murphy thought he had McDonald’s interest, but the burgermeisters were being peppered with similar offers from competing streetballers; eventually, they decided to stay out until a leader emerged. Then, for a while, Coca-Cola looked promising. Around that time, Murphy says, he was tempted by a job offer to run the magazine division of Times Mirror. The money was more than enough to handle the kids’ college bills, and the company would provide him a home on either coast.

“I went home and talked to Linda, and we agreed not to do it,” Murphy says. “Thank heaven she was supportive. If she’d thrown in the towel, I probably would have created a résumé and gone back to a real job.”

Murphy dodged that gray fate when Pepsi and Pizza Hut took an interest in his idea. But he was pitted against ProServ, the huge sports marketing company that represents dozens of superstar athletes. At a September meeting, both rivals would make their pitch.

“We’ve all had moments we knew we had to be good,” Murphy says. “I knew I had an hour to sell my dream, or gel out my resume and start looking.”

The ProServ team went first. When it was Murphy’s turn, he couldn’t tell at first whether he was getting through. “Then, they’re suddenly asking me questions about what you do if it rains, and what happens if a father and son both enter, and so on. Those are not the questions you ask before you’ve made your decision.”

On Oct. 10. 1988, a Pizza Hut delivery truck pulled up in front of Murphy’s house. Inside a pizza box was the precious news: He had his sponsors. Hoop-It-Up was launched. “I think they liked my singleness of purpose,” Murphy says. “This was my only thing. I didn’t care whether Ivan Lendl won the French Open or not.”

So the tournament grew, from 18 cities in 1989 to 31 in 1991. It was real progress, but not enough for Murphy, who insisted on pushing into large markets where Pepsi didn’t want to go. He was hungry for Chicago, but Pepsi hesitated, and he watched as the Chicago Bulls started their own three-on-three weekend. When Murphy parted ways with Pepsi at the end of 1991, Pizza Hut also bowed out, unwilling to make the commitment alone.

Many thought the departure of the junk-food giants would derail Murphy, but in fact the loss of Pepsi cleared the way for him to gain the valuable sanction of the MBA. which has close ties to Coca-Cola. Hoop-It-Up is now “an official three-on-three event” of the NBA, a partnership that Murphy believes will grow.

Hoop-It-Up is running on its momentum low, striking deals with different sponsors in various cities, but Murphy is again seeking a national “title sponsor.” That was behind his decision last year to take Hoop-It-Up out of Boston and Atlanta, the respective headquarters of Reebok and Coca-Cola. The two companies sponsor a competing three-on-three tour in a handful of cities, but Murphy insists that he ordered a strategic withdrawal, not a retreat.

“They’re averaging about 130 teams a city,” Murphy says. “It’s a dismal failure. What I didn’t want to do was go into their two cities and kick their ass and piss them off.” Should the Coca-Cola/Reebok Blacktop 3-on-3 die a natural death. Murphy hopes to add the sponsors and their cities to the Hoop-It-Up empire. “For all the right reasons we think we’re the better one, but I don’t want to rub their noses in it.” [Blacktop officials say they’re drawing about 350 teams per city.]

Murphy isn’t as gentle with the nose of his chief rival, the Gus Macker Tournament. The Mackers stick mostly to smaller cities, but Murphy keeps a wary eye on them and seldom passes up a chance to drub diem in the media. “I originally took the position that this is a big country and if they’re doing a good job in a city, I’ll let them stay there,” he says. “Then they expanded to Cincinnati and Indianapolis, sneaking out of Michigan. And then they went head-to-head with me in Charleston, where my daughter goes to school. Now you’re messing with my family.”

He laughs, punch line delivered, but this is clearly no joke. Egos, money and turf are threatened. “So now I get competitive. We went to Milwaukee and started working with the [NBA franchise] Bucks and City Hall, and we took that one away from them. They’re not in Milwaukee anymore.” In yo’ face, Macker.

Murphy knows that Macker loyalists view him as a monied carpetbagger, the glittering whore of backcourt Babylon. In Murphy’s eyes, the Mackers lack the marketing savvy to be the best.

“They don’t understand. They do theirs [in Indianapolis] the first weekend of June. Memorial Day is the Indy 500 and the NBA playoffs are still on. They get no media. Why do it then? The sponsors don’t want it. The sponsors want media. This guy will never get the sponsors, so he’ll never get the turnout because he’ll never get the support.”

Now another battle with Macker is brewing in Indianapolis. A little before noon. Murphy got word that his NBA cohorts aren’t completely happy with the preparations for Hoop-It-Up’s debut there next month. So he won’t be in Cleveland tomorrow morning to see them take the world’s largest basketball team photo. He’s booked the breakfast flight to Indy, ready to practice some shuttle diplomacy.

“If I’m gonna compete with them, I don’t want any mistakes,” Murphy says. Indianapolis is a valuable city for other reasons: It’s home to 25 national governing bodies of various amateur sports including kayaking, equestrianism and baseball. “These people can say nice things about us in the marketplace. I want diem to say, ’Wow. what a show!”

STREETBALL PARTNERS INTERNA-tional Inc. is housed in a building called The Forum, which Murphy swears was chosen with no thought of the Los Angeles Lakers’ home court. He often jogs the four miles from his Bent Tree home, showers in the building and is pacing in his large, glassed-in office by 8. He likes to work standing up at an old pigeonholed desk, surrounded by autographed basketballs and roundball paraphernalia sent by hopeful entrepreneurs. On one wall is a photo of Murphy and several sweaty teammates posing with former NBA star Artis Gilmore, Nearby is a framed Hoop-It-Up ad: “Score more times this weekend than Wilt Chamberlain.”

“All the energy here comes from Terry,” says Bob Elliott. “You don’t see that many people that happy to come to work each day. It’s infectious. Terry is probably the reason 90 percent of us are here.”

Murphy says he’s primarily a “salesman” and admits that he’s not a skilled handler of personnel. He once told a writer that he didn’t have time to read The One-Minute Manager; he’d have to wait for the 30-second version. Mary Graham, who followed Murphy from D Magazine to Hoop-It-Up, finally got tired of waiting this past July.

“I was abused, and I had no life,” says Graham, who spent almost four years with Murphy in event services and marketing. “I perfected the 90-hour work week.” Graham, who also did data entry for the tournaments, says she had begged Murphy for more help even before her assistant quit last April.

“He told me to put it in my budget request,” says Graham. “I didn’t have time to do a budget request. I’ve always adored the guy. We work well with each other. But I just didn’t feel I was getting my due. Like any successful businessman, he won’t pay extra for something if he can get it for free.”

Graham, who continues to do free-lance work for Hoop-It-Up, says she’ll miss the “family” atmosphere of Murphy’s traveling basketball show. She remembers working the scoreboard at the first tournament back in ’86. “It was so neat. All those people, playing ball, not for money but just team spirit and good feelings. It was all virgin, all new. We were flying by the seat of our pants. But it got commercial and corporate.”

Asking Terry Murphy if Hoop-It-Up can become too commercial is a little like asking the Pope whether there can be too many Catholics. Will his tournament follow the model of Arlington Stadium, where everything but the flush of the toilet is ’’brought to you by” some merchant or other? Murphy vows that it won’t.

“In our business it becomes self-policing,” he says. “If we have too much out there, then Converse and Foot Locker say hey. we’re lost in the clutter. Count us out. I think eventually we’ll end up with big guys and little guys. A beverage, a telecommunications company, footwear, a car…and then you’ll have Joe’s Barbecue sponsoring Court 19. Mr. AT&T is not offended by Joe’s. But he is offended when he sees all this stuff, Copenhagen and Miller and all.”

Murphy’s bigger worry, he says, is maintaining quality control as the tournaments grow. “You’ve been to concerts, and you see a really bad T-shirt for $18. I won’t go back to those places. We cannot be in the rape and pillage mode with these guys out there to have a good time. I want $10 and $12 shirts, not $18 and $20.” Murphy acknowledges that the official Hoop-It-Up mesh shorts are pricey at $20. “But our cost on that is $13. Typically the markup is double. You go to Foot Locker and that pair of shorts is $26, $27.”

While he’s on the subject of money. Murphy wants to scotch a rumor that he is pulling obscene profits out of Hoop-It-Up. He won’t talk exact numbers, but says he makes “less than six figures.” And he doesn’t mind recalling that he has always fulfilled his promises to Hoop-It-Up’s various charities-even during the early years when the company was losing money. Hoop-It-Up, Murphy says, has given more than a million dollars to Easter Seals, Kiwanis Clubs, cystic fibrosis. Boy Scouts, the USO, juvenile diabetes and “the Navy Morale and Welfare Fund of the U.S. Kitty Hawk at a base near Orlando.”

One wall in Murphy’s office is dominated by a giant eraser-board chart showing the American cities where Murphy wants to plant the Hoop-It-Up flag. One column lists desirable cities where some identifiable problem is holding them back. {In Phoenix, for example. Murphy hopes to absorb an existing tournament hosted by the Fiesta Bowl.). Another, headed “Unencumbered: Let’s Do It,” includes Charlotte, Oakland and New York City-likely targets for expansion next year.

Moving up, on. out…such thoughts are never far from Murphy’s mind. He’s the pioneer who leads the wagon train into fresh territory, but he’s hired others to clear the brush and build the schoolhouse. He needs to move on.

“We’re going to grow from 40 to 50 cities,” Murphy says “That’s great. But it’s not nearly as much fun as starting a merchandise company, for instance. Doing the first eight cities was the hard part. Going from 18 to 30 was an adventure. Now we’ve got these great people in place…so the challenge is that next level.”

Hence the thrust into Europe, and beyond. During the Dallas Hoop-It-Up this past June, while Murphy and teammate Roger Staubach were playing slo-mo ball in the Two-century division, Hoop-It-Up supplies and backboards were headed by ship to Zaragoza, Spain. The location was no accident; Zaragoza was the site of the European qualifying tournament for Olympic basketball. The Dream Team was on the way; basketball fever was rising. Best of all for Murphy’s purposes, hundreds of the world’s top basketball writers would be there-from Athens, Stockholm. tout le monde. Let them see Hoop-It-Up in action, Murphy thought, and they would be ready to hype it up when he came to their cities. So he pitched his tents in a parking lot next to the arena, and waited.

“It was frighteningly successful,” he says. “We had 300 teams, and we turned at least 180 away.” And while streetball is foreign to Europeans, Murphy swears (and NBA sources confirm) that the crowds were great. “There were sometimes two, three, four times as many people watching us than were watching Slovenia play Germany,” Murphy crows.

The sporting press saw and approved. So did Murphy’s new NBA buds and the folks from F1BA, the international governing body of basketball. “They said. Wow! Something is really happening here. This is touching the consumer. The coaches’ clinics, the merchandise…This is real grassroots, I-love-this-game on foreign soil. And FIBA and the NBA are knocking themselves out to do business with us.”

It was a major score, even though the backboards got lost somewhere in the Canary Islands, causing last-minute panic. Darrell Noe. the DISD wood-shop teacher whose special ed classes build Hoop-It-Up backboards, was rushed to Spain, only to find a shortage of materials. “They don’t have lumberyards over there,” Murphy laughs. “They have trees.”

Next year, the European offensive continues. Murphy is eyeing Batalona (a Barcelona suburb), Madrid. Malaga, Milan, Bologna. Rome, Munich, Athens and perhaps Stockholm. Fun, cultural exchange, international harmony and oh, yeah, a chance to move some merchandise. After all, Europe doesn’t have that many outdoor courts. Murphy sees a big business in outdoor basketball systems like Huffy Sports and others build. “If we’re smart, we’ll ally ourselves with people like that and get a royalty on outdoor basketball equipment. And remember, the Dream Team name is not copyrightable. You could have the Dream Team Hoop-It-Up.”

Could, and probably will. But is leading the world in three-on-three basketball enough, even if Murphy exports it to the Aleutians, Madagascar, Katmandu, Quemoy and Ma-tsu? Maybe not. In August, he met with the National Football League to discuss a four-on-four flag football tournament. Take a regular football field, and you can get three games going from sideline to sideline. Might work.

And then there’s his other old love, volleyball. ’I get two calls a week from people who think we should be doing volleyball three-on-three. four-on-four, take the show on the road. But I don’t have the money to bring the sand everywhere. I mean, 30,000 tons of sand or whatever? And think of the cleanup! I don’t know, but it’s a lot of fun to think about.”