SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
January 31, 1977
Are they civic benefactors? Or crazy? Or merely rich men with an expensive hobby? Whatever they are, pro sports owners all think they've got troubles
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January 31, 1977

Who Are These Guys?

Are they civic benefactors? Or crazy? Or merely rich men with an expensive hobby? Whatever they are, pro sports owners all think they've got troubles

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So boom! boom! boom! On and on went the Carl Scheer Magic Merchandising Road Show. Care to purchase a choice block of tickets in exchange for an ad in our two-time Most Valuable Program? Sign right here. Like to sponsor Nugget clinics, contests, giveaways? Line up over there. Supper with the stars? Bring your bib. Tickets for bingo prizes? Bingo! Or how about Carl Scheer himself addressing your top executives on Staff Motivation and Resource Management? "Ahem, like the Denver Nuggets, you too can have an unlimited future if only you will...."

Attendance, 1975-76: 730,624. Fourth highest in pro basketball.

Last spring Scheer and Nets owner Roy Boe petitioned for membership in the NBA. The move outraged other ABA owners, but it helped break the fullcourt freeze. It also broke the Nuggets. Scheer says, "The NBA owners knew they had us by the throat, and they kept squeezing. When they said the cost of admission was $3.2 million, we had no one who could sign the check."

The Nuggets are planning to go public to raise the NBA admission fee, and odds are that few if any of the projected 3,500 shareholders will flinch at the warning printed on the prospectus: "These securities involve a high degree of risk." After all, Denver is not only leading its division in wins and season-ticket sales (10,600), but Scheer also has a new flip card theme to get absolutely bullish about. Color us Brown. Or how the NBA was won.

So why exactly is Scheer popping Maalox and mainlining Diet Pepsi? "Complacency is the forerunner of mediocrity," he is fond of saying. He also likes to tell how David Thompson, the team's star player, was persuaded that the primary reason he should come to Denver was not the grubby half million ("How many Mercedes can he drive?" Scheer asks), but the "psychic income" accrued from joining the "Nugget family" and taking part in "teamwork."

But mainly Scheer goes on about how "obsessed" and "consumed" and "haunted" he is by "my dream to build a champion and—this may sound tacky—to contribute to the stability of our industry." What it sounds like is another sales pitch. Or is that the flutter of another flip card? One can almost see it now.

Nuggets win NBA championship.

Scheer enshrined atop Pikes Peak.

As the tremors in professional sports continue, there is cause to question whether the leagues are equipped to cope. Small groups of owners that once found it difficult to agree on anything are now larger groups that agree on nothing. The incompatibility is built in. League meetings, in which men of strong wills and robust egos are asked to seek accord with their opponents in the bidding wars, are often little more than stylized free-for-alls. Personal rivalries abound. Cliques clash. Says one combatant, "Off the record, dealing with my fellow owners is like trying to go around the world in a rowboat."

Owners love to speak off the record. It has something to do with keeping favored scribes abreast of the latest conspiracy. In the NFL more than one owner is whispering about supposed problems in the commissioner's office. Some baseball owners still contend that Walter O'Malley is operating major league baseball from a ravine in California. The Seattle SuperSonics' Sam Schulman says openly that the Lakers' Jack Kent Cooke is trying to run basketball. The Buffalo Braves' Paul Snyder disagrees; he says it's the Knicks' Mike Burke who is plotting the overthrow. And the rest are not so sure about Schulman and Snyder.

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