Fact Friday 228 - The Charlotte Hornets Executive That Invented the Slam Dunk Contest
Carl Scheer was an innovative general manager in the ABA and NBA. Scheer is credited with coming up with a staple of NBA All Star Games, the Slam Dunk Contest. He invented the event for the 1976 ABA All Star Game.
Carl Scheer, the first general manager in Charlotte Hornets history and the inventor of the slam-dunk contest, died Friday, December 13 in Charlotte. He was 82.
Bob Scheer said his father passed away one day short of what would have been his 83rd birthday.
Scheer was one of the primary authors of the Hornets’ inaugural season in 1988-89, a spectacular success still remembered nostalgically among the team’s longtime fans.
During a sports-centric career that spanned 50 years, Scheer also served as director of two minor-league hockey teams in the Carolinas — the Charlotte Checkers and the Greenville (S.C.) Growl. He also worked as GM of the ABA’s Carolina Cougars and shepherded the construction of a 14,000-seat multi-purpose arena in downtown Greenville, S.C.
Scheer chose Dell Curry — who would eventually set the Hornets’ all-time scoring record — in the expansion draft for Charlotte in 1988. That decision, in turn, meant that future two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry would be raised in Charlotte.
“I will forever be indebted to Carl for bringing me here,” Dell Curry said recently. “Obviously, it changed my life.”
Scheer -- whose death was caused by complications related to his dementia -- changed a lot of lives. A lawyer by training, he was known for his gentlemanly nature, his love for Hershey’s chocolate bars and other sweets and the listening skills he honed every day.
“Anyone talking to Carl thought they were the most important person in the world,” said Harold Kaufman, the Hornets’ public relations director in the early years. “’He made you feel good about yourself. He motivated through positive reinforcement. You just didn’t want to let him down.”
THE SCHEER, SHINN PARTNERSHIP
“A lot of the things that were done right, I got credit for them,” Shinn said in an Observer interview this year. “But I’ll admit most of them weren’t my idea… Once I got the team, it was all Carl.”
Carl Scheer (left) and George Shinn were the Charlotte Hornets’ original general manager and owner, respectively, when the team began play in 1988. The Hornets began a streak of 364 straight sellouts in the 23,698-seat Charlotte Coliseum that season.
In February, former NBA commissioner David Stern spoke to The Observer about Scheer just prior to Charlotte hosting the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.
“Charlotte owes Carl Scheer a debt of gratitude,” said Stern, who counted Scheer as a friend for more than 40 years. “Carl Scheer provided a lot of the reason why (All-Star Weekend) can be in Charlotte at all. Carl had a great understanding of a team as a community asset, that it was supposed to make a city proud and give back to the city.”
Scheer ran both the basketball and business operations for all the teams he directed as GM — a nearly unheard-of dual task in today’s more specialized pro sports world.
During home games, which he watched from the players’ tunnel because he was too antsy to sit down, Scheer was constantly in motion. He sometimes wound himself up so tightly in a curtain that separated the tunnel from the playing floor that he needed extrication assistance.
“He was crazy during games,” his son, Bob Scheer, said with a chuckle. “Yelling at teams, yelling at refs, being a fan… And then at halftime, he and Marilynn (Bowler, one of Scheer’s most trusted lieutenants with the Hornets) would march out and sit on the visiting team’s bench and watch the halftime show. He was obsessed with the halftime show, because it was part of the evening and of the whole entertainment experience.”
Said Bowler: “Carl made us all realize that nobody owed us anything. Instead, we owed all those people sitting in those seats. And he used to say all the time: ‘Win or lose, when people walk out, what I want them to say is that they had the greatest time and that they will be back.’”
Marsha Scheer, Carl’s wife of 60 years, said her husband “was just a good guy. A terrific guy. Kindness is a lost art these days. But he was kind to people.”
Scheer hated to lose. On nights when one of his teams lost a home game, the rest of his family would often go to bed and leave a carton of Rocky Road ice cream to thaw on the kitchen table, with a spoon next to it. Scheer would come home and console himself with the ice cream, sometimes eating the entire half-gallon. He would then jog seven miles the next day to ensure it wouldn’t go to his waistline.
Former Charlotte Hornets GM Carl Scheer (left) and team owner George Shinn stand under the Hornets banner and answer questions concerning Scheer’s resignation, which came after Shinn wouldn’t offer him a multi-year contract. The two men later would work together again and renew their friendship.
THE SLAM-DUNK CONTEST
“Carl was a marketing genius,” said David Thompson, the former N.C. State basketball star, “and he was great at making everyone feel special.”
Scheer signed Thompson to a five-year contract back in the 1970s when Scheer ran the upstart American Basketball Association’s Denver Nuggets, outbidding the establishment — the National Basketball Association — for Thompson’s dazzling services.
Thompson would turn out to be one of the stars in the ABA’s first-ever dunk contest, held in 1976. The contest would later migrate to the NBA because of its popularity and has now become a signature event of All-Star Weekend.
In the original contest — conceived by Scheer with the help of a few other staffers and then put into practice by Scheer — five ABA stars competed for prize money of $1,200 at halftime of the all-star game.
Thompson guarded Julius “Dr. J” Erving for much of the first half, then had to compete in the dunk-contest finals against Erving. Thompson performed a 360-degree dunk so unknown at the time that the announcer twice called it a “twist-around slam dunk.”
But Erving took off from the free-throw line on his final dunk to win — a move that Michael Jordan would repeat a decade later in the NBA’s slam-dunk contest after the league adopted the popular ABA creation.
Marsha and Carl Scheer were married for 60 years. They met when they were both counselors at a summer camp and raised two children together -- son Bob and daughter Lauren.
Many years later, Jordan and Fred Whitfield, the Hornets’ current president, would bring Scheer back for a second stint with the Hornets. They enlisted Scheer to help them with their community outreach after the organization’s tumultuous years under former owner Bob Johnson.
“He had sat in my seat before,” Whitfield said, referring to Scheer’s years managing the team’s Hornets’ operations, “and he became a great friend and supporter for me. Almost like a father figure. He was such a cheerleader for our organization.”
Whitfield said Scheer led the Hornets’ initiative to donate $250,000 to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2010 to keep middle school sports rather than see the district implement “pay-to-play” sports participation fees.
The Hornets put out a statement mourning Scheer’s death and praising him. It read in part: “As our first president and general manager, he built the franchise from the ground up and laid the foundation for our city’s love affair with the Hornets.”
MEMORIAL SERVICE SCHEDULED
Scheer’s family said that as Scheer became forgetful and had a harder time getting around, the Hornets still continued to employ him for many more months in the early 2010s until he could no longer work at all.
As dementia took a crueler hold on what had been one of the sharpest minds in sports, Scheer would sometimes believe he was still running a team. At Sardis Oaks nursing facility in Charlotte, where he lived the final years of his life, the former GM would convene fellow patients at the nursing facility around a table to discuss potential trades.
Bob Scheer is the son of Carl Scheer, a former ABA and NBA executive for the Carolina Cougars, Denver Nuggets and Charlotte Hornets. “I was his son, and then I became his business partner, and then his caregiver,” Bob Scheer said of his father. “So it was sort of a full-circle thing.”
Because of his father’s long, slow decline over the past few years, Bob Scheer has had ample time to work on what he will say at his father’s memorial service.
Carl Scheer’s memorial service was held Wednesday, December 18 at 3 p.m. at Temple Beth El in Charlotte (5101 Providence Road). Bob Scheer and his father previously discussed the first joke he would tell there — it is “Carl-approved,” as Bob said.
Carl Scheer was known for fudging the attendance figures for most of the teams he directed (outside of the Hornets, who always sold out). Scheer liked to see the official attendance number first on a piece of paper. Then he would cross it out and write down a higher number before the number was made public.
“So at his funeral,” Bob Scheer said, “I’m going to say: ‘I heard there was going to be a couple of hundred people here. That’s awesome. My Dad would like to announce an attendance of 17,423.’”
Huge 704 Shop salute to the legend that is Carl Scheer.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
The Charlotte Observer, "Carl Scheer, first GM of Charlotte Hornets and slam-dunk contest inventor, dies at 82," by Scott Fowler. December 2019.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass