From an InfoWorld article:
That Java’s 10th birthday would even be remembered seemed an unlikely possibility in 1995. At that time, Java was an obscure technology left over from a failed interactive TV venture called FirstPerson. But with the World Wide Web taking off, the FirstPerson team somehow managed to convince Sun’s legal department to let it take the unprecedented step of releasing the Java source code to the public.
Sounds like fake history to me — I’m pretty sure Sun’s “open sourcing” Java (if you want to call it that) didn’t have much to do with its success.