Former Miami Dolphins, Miami Marlins and Florida Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga died at 80 on Friday.
Huizenga, who also owned Waste Management, Blockbuster Video and AutoNation, was arguably the biggest sports figure in South Florida’s history, and his death reverberated across the sports landscape.
Legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula had this to say on his former owner:
“Mary Anne and I were saddened to learn of Wayne’s passing. No one was a bigger Dolphin fan than he was, and no one wanted to see the team win more than he did. He supported the team in every way possible, and no one could have asked to work for a better owner.
“But as wonderful as he was as an owner, he was even better as a person. He was truly a great friend who showed compassion and caring for everyone he knew and many he didn’t, as evidenced by his wonderful work in the community.
“We lost a great family man, businessman, sportsman, philanthropist, and friend, but most of all, a great person. He will be missed.”
Current Dolphins chairman and managing general partner Stephen Ross released this comment on the late Huizenga:
“Wayne Huizenga was a seminal figure in the cultural history of South Florida. He completely changed the landscape of the region’s sports scene with his purchase of the Dolphins coupled with his pursuit of expansion teams in both Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Sports fans throughout the region owe him a debt of thanks for his stewardship of the Dolphins and for his vision and initiative to positively impact our community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.”
“The Florida Panthers organization is heartbroken by the news of H. Wayne Huizenga’s passing,” Panthers owner Vincent Viola said in a statement. “Mr. Huizenga’s lifelong commitment to our community, his philanthropy and his entrepreneurial spirit ensure that the Huizenga family legacy will live on in South Florida.
“I’m continually inspired by Wayne’s example, from his vision and his civic-minded leadership, to his success fostering an environment of on-ice excellence, which continues to have a shaping influence on every step we take in the South Florida community. He will be remembered always by our Panthers family.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement, as well, on Huizenga’s passing:
“Wayne Huizenga was an entrepreneurial visionary who possessed boundless energy, drive and imagination, a devotion to his community in South Florida and a passion for sports. Those all were vividly reflected in his founding of the Florida Panthers, the construction of a world-class arena in Sunrise and his leadership of the franchise to an appearance in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final in just its third year in existence.
“While Wayne established South Florida as a hockey market, he devoted as much time and effort to education-focused philanthropic efforts that benefited his beloved community in many ways.
“The National Hockey League sends its condolences to his family and to all throughout the sports and business worlds who Wayne touched and inspired – including the countless hockey fans and players throughout Florida who came to the game as a result of his vision.”
Huizenga helped bring Major League Baseball to South Florida, and the Marlins released a short statement on Twitter.
Former Marlins president David Samson had this to say on Twitter.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred also issued a statement on the passing of Huizenga:
“Major League Baseball extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Wayne Huizenga. Wayne played a pivotal role in bringing the Marlins to South Florida more than a quarter-century ago and his leadership brought a World Championship season in 1997, the franchise’s fifth year of existence. More important than Wayne’s great success in business was his extraordinary philanthropy, which impacted many people and improved communities.”
Even Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Heat, the one major Miami-area team that Huizenga never owned, addressed Huizenga’s death at the team’s shootaround in Oklahoma City:
“Our thoughts go out to the Huizenga family,” he told reporters. “(He was) obviously a big name down here in South Florida. He’s one of the first names I heard of when I moved to Miami. It seemed like he was the owner of every sports franchise down here, and really did it with professionalism and class. So our thoughts go out to his family.”
The Panthers originally played in Miami Arena before moving to Sunrise, the Fort Lauderdale suburb, in 1998.