Class of 1993
Contributions to Tennis
Off the Court
Speak the name Lamar Hunt to a sports fan and the first association won’t necessarily be tennis. Those with knowledge of professional sports will recall that Hunt was a founder of the American Football League, coined the term Super Bowl, and owned the Kansas City Chiefs, formerly known as the Dallas Texans.
Keen tennis aficionados will remember Hunt as the visionary who founded World Championship Tennis (WCT) in 1967, the precursor to modern men’s professional tennis. Hailing from a billionaire family that made its fortune in the Texas oil industry, Hunt was steeped in professional sports. He was one of the founding investors in the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and also Major League Soccer, where he owned two teams, the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards.
His impact in tennis was creative, innovative, and radical. The WCT built a global following, bringing professionals into tournament tennis. Hunt actively recruited amateur players, and the inaugural group known as the “Handsome Eight,” featured Dennis Ralston, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Buchholz, Niki Pilić, Roger Taylor, and Pierre Barthès. Hunt instituted a tie-breaker system and outfitted players with colored clothing, a radical change implemented to improve the product for its television coverage. Hunt wanted a lively atmosphere – the WCT strongly encouraged fans to cheer for players – giving matches more of a boxing atmosphere than the hushed courts of Wimbledon.
Hunt feverishly worked to grow WCT, and the next round of incentivized players he signed included Marty Riessen, Ray Moore, Tom Okker, and Arthur Ashe. A rival league, known as the National Tennis League, was absorbed into the WCT and with that came a legion of heavy hitters, both literally and figuratively, with Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Andrés Gimeno, Pancho Gonzáles, Roy Emerson, and Fred Stolle joining a stable of top-ranked pros. None of this sat particularly well with the International Lawn Tennis Federation, which banned all WCT players from its tournaments and facilities.
Loosely translated, it meant that Lamar Hunt had disturbed the tennis establishment and was the “largest promoter of professional tennis in the world.” As the Association of Tennis Professionals, in conjunction with the rival Grand Prix Circuit, became its own strong entity in the early 1980s, Hunt’s brainchild lost its thunder, ultimately succumbing to the weight of lawsuits and a changing landscape. The WCT folded in 1989 and in 1990, the ATP began its own tour.
Hunt has been elected to three Halls of Fame, including tennis, soccer, and football. He is recognized as the man who created the tour that helped legitimize professional tennis.