Usually at the end of each year we take a look back at those in the sports world that passed away during the year. However, this week, three sports icons died within two days, and I don’t want to put off honoring them in this column.
Ray Miron devoted most of his life to his love of hockey. He died on Friday at the age of 92.
The Cornwall, Ontario, native began playing hockey at a young age, and made it as far as the Canadian minor leagues. However, his career was cut short due to burns he sustained while working in a Canadian factory during World War II. There was a mustard gas leak and Miron’s body was covered in mustard acid, which severely burned him and left him in a hospital for several months.
He first came to Tulsa in 1964 to become the general manager of the Tulsa Oilers in the “old” Central Hockey League. He kept that position through 1974, and served as the team’s coach that final season.
Miron was appointed president of the CHL in 1976, but held the office only three months before accepting the position of general manager with the Colorado Rockies in the NHL. Miron often said working in the NHL was a “dream come true.” He was the Rockies GM for five years before moving back to Tulsa.
From 1983-87, Miron was the Atlantic Coast Hockey League commissioner, and then in 1992 he co-founded the “new” Central Hockey League with Bill Levins. Miron was the president of the CHL from 1992-97. Miron sold the CHL in 2000, and in recognition of his contributions to the league, the championship trophy, formerly known as the Bill Levin’s Cup, was renamed the Ray Miron Cup.
I met Miron in 1992, when I was working for the radio station selected to carry the Tulsa Oilers broadcasts that first season. I was hired to do the play-by-play, and had the opportunity to talk with Miron several times throughout the season, even interviewing him on the broadcasts many times.
In 2004, Miron was awarded the prestigious Lester Patrick Trophy by the NHL, a recognition he described as his “greatest hockey accomplishment.” The award honors the memory of Patrick, who spent 50 years as a hockey pioneer and builder of the sport.
Miron is preceded in death by his wife, Rowena, who died in 2004. He is survived by a son Monte (former commission of the CHL) and his wife Judy, and a daughter Cindy, as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Miron’s funeral will be 11 a.m. Friday at Inverness Village.
Alger Joseph (Al) Arbour was the architect of the New York Islanders dynasty, coaching the team to four straight Stanley Cup titles (1980-83). Arbour died last week in Sarasota, Florida, at the age of 82.
Arbour is second all-time to Scotty Bowman for most wins and games coached in NHL history. The Sudbury, Ontario, native was a defenseman and played amateur hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, before being signed by the Detroit Red Wings in 1953. He was later claimed by the Chicago Black Hawks in 1958, where he helped the team win a Stanley Cup Championship in 1961.
Arbour played with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the next five years, winning another Cup in 1962. He was selected by the St. Louis Blues in their 1967 expansion draft and played his final four seasons with the team.
In a move that would rarely be seen in any professional sport, Arbour was hired to coach the Blues during his last season as a player with the team.
The New York Islanders then hired Arbour in 1973. He led the team to a winning record every season from 1974–75 until he stepped down in 1985–86. Arbour won nineteen consecutive playoff series, which remains an NHL record. He was awarded the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach in 1979. Upon retiring from the bench, Arbour was named vice president of player development for the Islanders. He returned to coach the Islanders in the 1988–89 season, and remained there until 1994. Like Miron, Arbour was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to the sport, and he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
Darryl Dawkins was a star in the NBA for 14 years, but he was most noted for his backboard smashing slam dunks and his sense of humor. He was drafted out of high school by Philadelphia in 1975 and played seven seasons with the Seventy-Sixers (1975-82). He then went on to play with the New Jersey Nets (1982-87), Utah Jazz (1987), and Detroit Pistons (1987-89). Dawkins also spent time playing in Italy and in the CBA. He died at 58 of an apparent heart attack.
Dawkins broke glass backboards twice in the 1979-80 season, and he would always give names to his slam dunks. He called one of them, over a hapless Kansas City Kings forward named Bill Robinzine, “Chocolate Thunder Flyin’, Robinzine Cryin’, Teeth Shakin’, Glass Breakin’, Rump Roastin’, Bun Toastin’, Wham Bam, Glass Breaker I Am Jam.”
Dawkins has been described as a showman, prankster and self promoter. But that may be exactly why so many people loved him, and the reason he was truly suited to be a member of the Harlem Globetrotters when his NBA career ended.
I met Dawkins in the winter of 1995 while he was playing his one season with the Globetrotters. He was naturally funny and a perfect fit for the antics of the world’s most famous basketball team. Following the game here in Tulsa, a couple of players invited my family and me to join them for dinner at John Starks’ restaurant. I spent some time chatting with Dawkins and he sure did make us all laugh and keep us entertained that night.
Dawkins was just that way, he enjoyed being around people. He liked being the center of attention, but most of all, he just loved making people laugh.