50 Years Ago in Hockey: Hawks Owner Norris Dies

Chicago Black Hawks co-owner James Norris passed away yesterday at age 59. Norris, a larger-than-life figure in the world of sports, was one of the most influential National Hockey League governors. To say he played a large role in shaping the fortunes of the NHL would be understating the sway he held with other governors.

Passed Away in Chicago

Norris, whose assets are valued at $250,000,000 passed away due to a heart ailment at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis. He had been bothered by heart problems for the past 10 years.

Norris came from a wealthy family. His brother Bruce is the owner of the Detroit Red Wings. His father, James Norris Sr., built the family fortune from the Chicago grain business. The senior Norris bought the arenas in Chicago and Detroit in the 1930s. He eventually came to own the Red Wings before passing away in 1952.

James Norris Sr.
James Norris Sr.

James Jr. was always interested in sports, principally horse racing, boxing and hockey. He got his start in the sports promotion business when he bought into the Twentieth Century Sporting Club, partnered with Arthur Wirtz.

With Joe Louis having  retired as heavyweight boxing champion, they hatched a plan to hold an elimination tournament to fill the vacant title.  The first bout was between Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Charles won a decision, the National Boxing Association declared him champion and the Wirtz-Norris duo was on its way.

Ran International Boxing Club

Norris formed the International Boxing Club, of which he was head. He served in that capacity until he had his second heart attack in 1958. He was often criticized for his association with well-known underworld and organized crime figures such as Frankie Carbo.

Frankie Carbo. Underworld figure was involved in Norris' boxing interests.
Frankie Carbo. Underworld figure was involved in Norris’ boxing interests.

He later said he regretted becoming involved with Carbo, who owned pieces of many boxers, including a couple of champions. Norris seemed to be intent on cleaning up the boxing game. At one point he attempted to recruit FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover to take over as IBC head.

Norris and Wirtz acquired the Black Hawks in 1952 and spent over $2 million in building the team into the 1961 Stanley Cup champions.

While also involved in horse racing and boxing, Norris made no bones about the fact that hockey and the Black Hawks were his first love:

I’ve been in horse racing for a long time. It’s nice, but horses aren’t hockey.  I’d much rather win the Stanley Cup than the Kentucky Derby.

Offered $1M for Mahovlich

Frank Mahovlich: Norris offered $1 million for him.
Frank Mahovlich: Norris offered $1 million for him.

Norris made headlines in 1962 when he offered the Toronto Maple Leafs $1 million in cash for the services of Frank Mahovlich. He was dead serious about the transaction and had a cheque delivered the next morning. The deal was scuttled when Leafs’ Conn Smythe discovered that it had been made after the parties involved had imbibed to excess. He felt that no player was worth that amount of money and he didn’t want his beloved Maple Leafs taking advantage of a team thanks to excess alcohol consumption.

Norris belonged to several elite groups. He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and New York Stock Exchange. He held interests in a fleet of Great Lakes freighters, the Rock Island Railroad and a couple of high-end Chicago hotels.

Norris’ passing will not affect the NHL schedule. The Black Hawks have games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday and those games will carry on as planned. His partner Arthur Wirtz will fill in as acting governor with the league.

Norris was not a huge proponent of NHL expansion. His death, however, will likely have no effect on the league’s plans to double in size by 1967-68. Norris is thought to have held the expansion process hostage by insisting that St. Louis be given a franchise. He owned the St. Louis Arena and said he would block any expansion plan that did not include the U.S. Midwest city. He said that any potential St. Louis owner would have to purchase The Arena. One group, headed by Sidney Salomon Jr., of St. Louis, has come forward, but the franchise has not yet been awarded.

Orr May Not Join Bruins

Bobby Orr may choose school over pro hockey.
Bobby Orr may choose school over pro hockey.

Paul Rimstead of the Toronto Globe and Mail has filed a report suggesting that Bobby Orr, superstar in the making, may not join the Boston Bruins once he attains the age of 18. In fact, according to Rimstead, he may delay his National Hockey League debut by at least a year.

Orr, 17, plays for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey Association Junior A Series. He is a grade 11 student. Both his father and his lawyer would like to see Bobby complete his high school education, at least to the grade 12 level. He would then take U.S. college courses part-time during his initial NHL seasons.

Orr and his representatives recently met with the Bruins management. A suggestion was made that Bobby could attend high school in Boston next fall. There seems to be little doubt that the highly-skilled youngster will take a regular turn on the Boston blue line next season.

Bobby’ father, Doug Orr, spoke with Rimstead about his son’s immediate future:

We would prefer him to spend another year at Oshawa and complete Grade 12. It would be a tough chore to do both – play for the Bruins and attend high school.

We’re extremely happy with the way he has turned out. I know if I had the publicity he has had, it might have gone to my head.

Mr. Orr said that he doesn’t interfere with Bobby’s future. He said that even when five NHL teams were pursuing his son, then 14 at the time, he let him make up his own mind to sign with Boston.

Mr. Orr has retained the services of Alan Eagleson a Toronto lawyer and member of the Ontario Legislature. Eagleson has experience working with hockey players, including several members of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He will likely be a tough negotiator for the Bruins to deal with. And Boston, league doormats for the past several seasons, is in no position to let the player many consider the franchise’s saviour, to slip away for any reason.


Stanley Cup games to be shown in Colour on NBC.
Stanley Cup games to be shown in Colour on NBC.

The National Hockey League and National Broadcasting Company of the United States have completed a broadcasting agreement that will see 1966 Stanley Cup playoff games beamed across the U.S.

Sources say that the games will be broadcast on Sunday afternoons, likely between 3 pm and 5 pm. If this does take place, it will be the first time Stanley Cup playoff games will have been played on Sunday afternoons.

NBC is selling advertising time at a rate of $12,000 per minute. So far, spots have been purchased by an unnamed  automobile manufacturer.

By comparison, advertisers on National Football League telecasts pay an average of $70,000 per minute.

Televising Stanley Cup games this year would be a prelude to more coverage next season. The goal would be a full-blown network arrangement in time for the 1967-68 season. The NHL doubles in size from six to 12 teams that year, becoming a coast-to-coast league.

Pittsburgh Entry Names Slate

The new Pittsburgh entry in the National Hockey League has named seven directors and elected officers. Senator Jack McGregor will be the president of the new team. The franchise will be controlled by a syndicate of 21 members.

Along with McGregor, lawyer Peter Block was named a senior vice-president, treasurer and assistant secretary. Russell Byers was named chairman of the board of directors.

NHL Under Combines Act?

Privy Council President Guy Favreau.
Privy Council President Guy Favreau.

Vancouver Liberal Member of Parliament Ron Basford has introduced a bill which would bring the National Hockey League under the Combines Investigations Act.

Mr. Basford says his bill would force the NHL owners to act in the best interests of the public, “whether they want to or not.” He noted that Privy Council President Guy Favreau said that professional sport is not covered by the Combines Act because it is concerned with services.

Basford’s bill would bring all professional sports under the jurisdiction of the Combines Act. He said that while this is true, the bill is primarily aimed at the NHL.

The bill would provide for a two-year jail sentence for persons “operating a combine in any professional sport which limited or restrained opportunities of players to participate or spectators to observe in such a way as to operate to the detriment or against the interest of the public.”

The bill was given first reading and will come up for debate later.

No Decision on WHL Blades

No decision has yet been reached on the future of the Western Hockey League Los Angeles Blades.

Executive Director of the team, Jack Geyer, would not comment on reports that the club would fold after this season. The owners of the team had bid unsuccessfully for a National Hockey League expansion franchise. The Los Angeles team was awarded to Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association.

Geyer said that the report is premature:

“The report is just a guess. It might prove to be a good one, but the owners are meeting today for the first time since we lost out on a bid for an NHL franchise.”