Huizenga, first man to own three US sports teams, dead at 80

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Miami (AFP)

Billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga, the first man to own three top-level US sports teams and to found three Fortune 500 companies including the nation's largest waste disposal firm, died Friday. He was 80.

Huizenga bought the NFL's Miami Dolphins in 1993 and founded the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers and Major League Baseball's Florida (now Miami) Marlins, who both began play in 1993.

"Saddened to hear about the passing of my long-time friend Wayne Huizenga. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Huizenga family," tweeted former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.

Huizenga founded Fortune 500 firms Waste Management, AutoNation and Blockbuster Video. He began a garbage hauling business that he built into Waste Management, followed by making Blockbuster into the top US video rental store chain by 1994.

After selling Blockbluster, he financed the creation and development of AutoNation, which became the largest US auto dealer.

"A great man, one of the nicest individuals I have ever known, Wayne Huizenga passed away. RIP," tweeted former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, a two-time Super Bowl champion guiding the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dolphins and their home stadium, a frequent Super Bowl venue, were owned by Huizenga until 2009 when he completed a sales deal to real estate developer Stephen Ross.

The Marlins won the 1997 World Series, rallying in the seventh game to defeat Cleveland for the crown, but Huizenga sold the club in 1998 for $150 million.

"We mourn the passing of the original Florida Marlin, Mr. H. Wayne Huizenga, who will be remembered as much for his contributions to South Florida professional sports as he was for his many charitable endeavors," the Marlins tweeted.

The Panthers reached the 1996 NHL Stanley Cup finals and Huizenga sold them in 2001 for about $100 million. The Panthers retired the number 37, for Huizenga being born in 1937, in a pre-game ceremony two months ago.

"The Florida Panthers organization is heartbroken by the news," Panthers owner Vincent J. Viola said. "Mr. Huizenga's lifelong commitment to our community, his philanthropy and entrepreneurial spirit ensure that the Huizenga family legacy will live on in South Florida."