Ric Flair was a relatively unknown wrestler the day he said he arrived in Charlotte “with $150 in my pocket” in 1974.
Charlotte was a professional wrestling epicenter, home to the National Wrestling Alliance, then the second-largest wrestling operation in the U.S.
At its helm was Jim Crockett Jr., who died on Wednesday at age 76.
Through the family’s Jim Crockett Promotions Inc., Crockett built “a TV syndication empire” that rivaled top-rated “Wheel of Fortune,” the Observer reported in 1987. The studio/offices were on Briabend Drive, off South Boulevard, where Flair and other wrestlers hung out.
“Jimmy Crockett was my friend and my boss,” Flair tweeted on Thursday after World Wrestling Entertainment announced Crockett’s death. “I can’t put Into words how much he did for me and my career. His influence and persistence helped me become the World Champion.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Crockett Family!” Flair tweeted with a hands clasped in prayer emoji.
Crockett was an “influential promoter” who “helped champion” not only Flair but fellow wrestling Hall of Famers Ricky Steamboat and The Road Warriors, the WWE posted on its website.
He made the Hall of Fame career of Dusty Rhodes, The Charlotte Observer reported in 1987. And Crockett’s NWA made a name in the U.S. for Andre the Giant, according to a bio of the late 7-foot-4 French wrestler on TVTropes.org.
Crockett and his family owned the former Charlotte O’s AA minor league baseball team from 1976 to 1987. His sister Frances was general manager of the team that played at Crockett Park, which the siblings named in memory for their father. Arsonists burned the wood-framed stadium down in 1985, and it was not rebuilt.
“Today my heart breaks,” Tony Schiavone, the longtime pro wrestling commentator and podcaster, said on Twitter. “Everything I have become, professionally is because of him and his family.”
Schiavone said Frances Crockett hired him as a baseball broadcaster in 1982. A year later, “Jimmy decided to give me a shot at wrestling. He made me what I am today. “
Jim Crockett Jr. credited his dad, who died in 1973, with teaching him everything he needed to know about promotions.
His father arrived in Charlotte in 1935 from Bristol, Tenn., and launched into the field of promotions, the Observer reported in 1987.
Jim Crockett Sr. “booked bands, singers, ‘My Fair Lady,’ even Lassie,” the Observer reported.
He, too, promoted professional wrestling, while also owning a bunch of restaurants — Queen’s Soda & Grill on Providence Road, Ringside Soda Grill in the Elizabeth neighborhood, Jim & Jake’s and others.
His dad told him story after story on their drives to and from the family’s promotions business each morning and evening, Jim Crockett Jr. told the Observer in 1987.
“I would ask a specific question, and I would always get a story back about how something went on, and I’d have to figure out what was right and what was wrong about it,” Crockett Jr. said.
“That was my education, other than, ‘never promote what you like. Promote what the fans like.’ “
Financial wrestle with WWE
Crockett competed for years against Vince McMahon’s WWE, and the battle eventually took its toll on profit margins, he told Sports Illustrated in 2019.
In 1988, Crockett sold his family’s entertainment company to Ted Turner in Atlanta.
“We had built a television show and advertising flow, but we didn’t manage cash flow and we couldn’t factor our time sales,” Crockett told Sports Illustrated. “That’s why we started morphing toward Turner.”
When Crockett sold to Turner, “for wrestling fans in the city and region, there was now a hole that King Kong Bundy — a wrestler so large he reportedly was once annexed — couldn’t fill,” former Observer sports columnist Tom Sorensen wrote in 1990.