In the hours leading up to Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat franchise decided to outfit its arena’s chairs with thousands of white shirts that read “#LarryLovesMiami,” a reference to the Lawrence O’Brien trophy, which the NBA hands out at the end of every season to that year’s champion.
What the Heat franchise probably doesn’t know is that Lawrence O’Brien, the former Democratic National Committee Chairman and predecessor as NBA commissioner to David Stern, probably didn’t “love” Miami. He may not have even liked it.
O’Brien’s offices at the headquarters of the DNC in Washington D.C. were in the Watergate apartment complex and hotel. Those offices, infamously, were burglarized in 1972 by a group funded and instructed by the Committee to Re-Elect the President – the president in this case being Richard Nixon. After an initial cover-up, it was later revealed that several members of Richard Nixon’s high staff had direct knowledge about the burglaries and wiretapping attempts prior to the break-in. The President initiated the cover-up that followed, and the later revelation of the completely unnecessary illegal break-in (Nixon was well on his way to a landslide win over North Dakota Senator George McGovern, and didn’t need to play dirty) led to Nixon’s downfall and resignation prior to impeachment charges in 1974.
What does this have to do with the Miami Heat handing out shirts? Four out of the five burglars in the break-in of Larry O’Brien’s offices were from Miami. The Watergate break-in was funded in and hatched in Washington D.C., but the preparation for the event was pieced together in Key Biscayne, and Miami, Florida.
Meetings between E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy (who later appeared as a drug kingpin in ‘Miami Vice’), two of the key Watergate burglary tacticians, took place in Miami in 1972; as the two discussed (with, possibly, CIA agent James McCord) the break-in according to Hunt’s sworn testimony.
Four of the five burglars that broke into Lawrence O’Brien’s offices at the Watergate hotel were – Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard Barker and Virgilio (Villo) Gonzalez – lived most of their lives in Miami, and were working out of Miami as various anti-Fidel Castro operatives, burglars, and locksmiths. In the initial days of the Watergate investigation, both the Democratic National Committee and the media factions covering the incident could not understand why a group of burglars from Miami would come all the way to Washington D.C. to rob Larry O’Brien’s offices at the Watergate complex.
O’Brien was quoted in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book ‘All The President’s Men’ as saying the break-in comprised mostly of Miami-based burglars “raised the ugliest question about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter center of political activity.” And this was just days after the break-in. O’Brien left the DNC in 1972, frustrated by these sorts of practices, and became NBA commissioner in 1975.
So, no, Larry probably didn’t think happy thoughts in the years following when the word “Miami” was uttered in his presence. As a basketball-loving visionary with a good sense of humor, O’Brien (who passed away in 1990) would still probably get a kick out of the Miami Heat getting it way, way wrong.