By: Jace Darling, bobcats.com
Carl Scheer has been an influential front office representative in professional basketball for 45 years, including stops in league offices as well as with a host of individual teams. The Denver Nuggets honored Scheer on Jan. 25 for being the man that brought the NBA to Denver. Over the course of his professional career, Scheer has put his fingerprint on the game we know today, from pushing for the three-pointer to creating the slam dunk contest. Scheer is currently a consultant for the Charlotte Bobcats, and I had a chance to sit down with him to discuss the honor given him by Denver and talk about his career in professional basketball.
What was the feeling like for you when you were told the Nuggets were going to honor you?
I was really taken aback by it, quite frankly. As you wind down your career, I’m 77 how long can you go, you start to think about what impact are you going to leave on yourself and the teams you worked with. What is your legacy going to be? The woman that has put this together, Lisa Johnson, I hired as a summer intern 33 years ago and she’s vice-president now. She put her hands on this presentation and it was just wonderful. My family was included in it, they did a video with a rerun of my professional life and said a lot nice things and quite frankly more than I deserve. I had a great staff and great people and I learned very early in my life, if you get good people, let them do their job. I hope that I succeeded in doing that.
How did it all start in professional basketball for you?
I started by practicing law in Greensboro, NC and representing an athlete. I was doing play-by-play for Guilford College, moonlighting for my law practice, Bob (Kaufmann) was drafted by NBA third and first in ABA. He (Kaufmann) didn’t know anything about contracts and asked me to represent him. After his negotiation was over, the owner of Seattle asked if I’d be interested in joining the NBA - they were looking for an assistant to the commissioner. The commissioner then was Walter Kennedy. I made four trips to New York, and they kept eliminating candidates until it was myself and another gentlemen that worked in merchandise and sales for the NHL. Walter called me one day and said, “Carl I really like our relationship, I hope we will be friends, but I’m going to take Dell.” He said he was taking him because he could type and I couldn’t type. In those days Walter Kennedy would close the office after the playoffs and would come back in the fall and start up again. He (Kennedy) comes back and gets a call from the guy that he had given the job to, and he said he had rethought it and decided he wanted to stay with the National Hockey League. He asked if I was still interested in joining the NBA. I said of course and he said, “Can you be here by January 1, 1969.” I said we’ll be there. From that came all the other stops that I had. It started with Buffalo, in the NBA, then back to Carolina with the Cougars of the ABA, and from there we went out to Denver and had a long run there, it was wonderful in Denver and went to Los Angeles with the Clippers then back to the CBA as commissioner and then to Charlotte with the Hornets and the Bobcats.
You worked in both the ABA and the NBA early on what were some major differences?
It was the players and the ownership that were quite different. The NBA was a league that played physical, the ABA was a finesse, creative league. It had great talent but didn’t have the reputation of the NBA. I’d say the basketball was good and we had some outstanding players, but the game itself – the rules needed refinement. After the merger we fought aggressively to try to get the three-point shot in. Which some of the conservative NBA owners refused to accept the fact that that was a rule that would change the entire NBA forever. It was a battle with Red Auerbach, an old school guy, he fought it. He said, “Next time you guys will come to me and want to give one point for a lay up.” It passed by one or two votes. And it proved to be a rule that probably single handedly was the greatest change in basketball including collegiate basketball.”
When you got to Denver you were involved in a rebranding from the Rockets to the Nuggets. How did the fans in Denver react?
We believed is was very important to integrate ourselves with the fans. This was a game that was to be exciting and fans would leave with a good feeling about the success of the club. We were more then just a basketball team, we offered good, solid entertainment every night. We won 64 games that first year and the fans really accepted and embraced the team. We were young and aggressive and played the game wide open and they were fun. I think that set the tone for how we were going to manage and operate our franchise in Denver.
You were named “Chief Executive of the Year” twice…
They had no other place to go. We were losing teams with some good administrators, eventually I was the last man standing.
The last season of the ABA was 1976. What did you do different that year as host of the ABA All-Star Game?
Denver was the host city and because they were in first place the Nuggets were the team that would play the All-Stars, according to ABA rules. It was the perfect opportunity. We were down from 11 to seven teams and knew this was the last year of the league, and if we didn’t prove ourselves to the basketball world and particularly the NBA, then we were in serious trouble. That would end this 10 year effort to compete. So we decided to ensure ourselves some recognition and all the seats sold after we announced we would have a concert following the game. We left with a great feeling because we won the game in overtime over the All-Stars, Thompson was the MVP and of course there was a beginning of a competition that has existed for many years, at least in NBA All-Star history. We had the All-Stars compete in the slam-dunk contest and Julius Irving, deservedly so, won that competition. We knew that we made an impression and from that game and the slam-dunk competition ad we were able to negotiate a settlement and a merger.
Did your experience in rebranding and expansion help bring you to Charlotte?
I think so, I think that George Shinn and his partners knew the experience that I had, and they were new to the game and gave me an opportunity to express what I think is the approach that should be taken when building a franchise. I accepted the challenge, and the fans of Charlotte made it easy.
When you rebranded in Denver, fan input was paramount as it has been here in Charlotte. Does it matter that much to the fans?
That was Michael’s (Jordan) concern; that was Fred’s (Whitfield) concern and Pete (Guelli) and all of the upper management, the people who ultimately made the decision. It was something that the fans wanted, and to these men’s credit it was something that we decided we wanted and said lets go for it. Its expensive. It’s a long process, but it was the right decision. I think you will see the difference.
How did you become involved with the Bobcats?
My wife wanted to live here and stay here. I continued to have my foot in the pond and Ed Tapscott, who was then president of the Bobcats, asked me to do some consulting for and with them and I was delighted to do that.