David Sweet ’85 began each interview for his biography of the late sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt with the same question: What was your first impression of Lamar? “Almost to a man, they had the same answer: ‘He was quiet,’” says Sweet, a longtime sportswriter who now serves as news editor at the Sun-Times Media Group. Sweet even titled his life story Lamar Hunt: The Gentle Giant Who Revolutionized Professional Sports. “But when you think of a guy whose father was a Texas billionaire and who was himself a king in the sports industry, you’d expect him to be this loud braggart.”
As Sweet’s book details, Hunt had a great deal to boast about if he were so inclined. He founded the American Football League in 1959, a colorful competitor to the NFL which would eventually merge with its rival. He played a seminal role in shaping professional tennis, forming a pro tour that compelled formerly amateur-only tournaments like Wimbledon to switch to an open format. He started the North American Soccer League, which would introduce icons like Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer to larger American audiences. For his efforts, he’s enshrined in the football, tennis, and soccer halls of fame. But from his uniform of gray slacks and blue blazer or his well-used car, it would have been hard to guess it. Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1963 until 2006, never even carried much money on him. One colleague recalled a time when Hunt had to borrow a dollar to buy a hot dog at the airport.
In one of Sweet’s favorite anecdotes, Hunt sits next to his downtrodden coach on the team bus after his Chiefs suffered a heartbreaking play-off loss. “Look at it this way,” Hunt says. “We beat them worse than they beat us,” referring to a game earlier in the season. “The real point was that he was just trying to make his coach feel better,” says Sweet. “Considering the cutthroat way that modern team ownership works, it’s an amazing moment.”