How Early Hornets Architect Carl Scheer Left a Lasting Legacy on All-Star Weekend
By Sam Perley
Three-time ABA Executive of the Year and the first-ever General Manager of the Charlotte Hornets, Carl Scheer, made a lot of notable transactions throughout the course of his distinguished career in professional basketball, particularly in Charlotte.
From picking up Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues as expansion players, to drafting Rex Chapman and J.R. Reid to trading for Kelly Tripucka to signing Earl Cureton, Kurt Rambis, Tim Kempton and Kenny Gattison, Scheer’s purple-and-teal fingerprints are all over the formative years of the Hornets franchise. Outside of Charlotte though, it was Scheer’s knack for innovation and outside-the-box thinking that changed the NBA and sport of basketball forever.
Flashback to over 40 years ago and Sheer (seated fourth from the left in the photo above) is midway through his second season as President/General Manager of the then ABA’s Denver Nuggets. The city was set to host the 1976 All-Star Game and with the league struggling to stay afloat financially at the time, Scheer needed the organization to put on a memorable show.
In an interview with Hornets.com back in 2014, Scheer reflected on what became a fateful night and how its ripple effects are still ever so present in the league today.
“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,” Scheer said. “It was the perfect opportunity. We were down from 11 to seven ABA teams and knew this was the last year of the league. If we didn’t prove ourselves to the basketball world and particularly the NBA, then we were in serious trouble.”
“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, [Denver’s] David Thompson was the MVP and of course, there was the 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 from that game and the Slam-Dunk Competition and we were able to negotiate a settlement and a merger.”
As Scheer mentions, the Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and New York Nets (now Brooklyn) merged with the NBA in the fall of 1976, while the Virginia Squires, Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis all ceased operations (the latter two franchises had their players claimed by NBA teams via a dispersal draft).
Eight years after the NBA-ABA merger, the Dunk Contest reappeared at All-Star Weekend, with Denver once again hosting the league’s midseason showcase event. In what was Scheer’s final year with the organization, Phoenix’s Larry Nance edged out Erving (a former New York Net now with the Philadelphia 76ers) for first place in the final round and the rest as they say, was history.
(1984 Dunk Contest participants from top left clockwise: Dominque Wilkins, Darrell Griffin, Julius Erving, Michael Cooper, Clyde Drexler, Orlando Woolridge, Ralph Sampson, Larry Nance and Edgar Jones)
Outside of 1998 and 1999, the Dunk Contest has been an annual All-Star Weekend mainstay – and an incredibly popular one at that. Past champions include superstars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. Lesser-known competitors at the time like Nate Robinson, Jason Richardson, Zach LaVine and Harold Miner went on to become dunking legends after winning the competition multiple times each.
But Scheer’s conception of the Dunk Contest isn’t the only thing he’s known for that revolutionized the league. Looking to draw viewership away from the NBA, the ABA was the first to utilize a three-point shot. Scheer and others with ties to the defunct league helped bring it over to the NBA post-merger, although there was certainly some blowback at the time.
“After the merger we fought aggressively to try to get the three-point shot in,” said Scheer. “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 layup.’ 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.”
The three-pointer did indeed greatly alter how the game was played both offensively and defensively. It also transformed how it was consumed by fans, which was particularly noteworthy in the early 1980’s when the NBA was falling behind in popularity and mass appeal.
It took until 1986 to get the Three-Point Contest into All-Star Weekend, which was hosted by Dallas that year. Larry Bird won the first three editions of the event and along with Craig Hodges, is one of just two players to pull off this trifecta. Scheer was working for the Los Angeles Clippers at the time, although was soon hired by the Hornets in 1987.
Factoring in that Charlotte is hosting the All-Star Game for the first time in 28 years during the 30th anniversary of the Hornets’ inaugural season and Kemba Walker and Miles Bridges are competing in the Three-Point and Dunk Contest, respectively, this weekend functions as a unique intersection of Scheer’s sensational career.
Scheer, who left the Hornets in 1990 and eventually returned to serve as an advisor and consultant for the Bobcats about a decade ago, is now 83 years old and retired. Unfortunately, dementia has slowly began setting in, robbing him of precious, lifelong memories. What won’t be erased though is the impact he – an inconspicuous visionary of sorts – blessed the sport with for countless years to come.