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How NBA Owners Made Their Money

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With the NBA playoffs starting, you've probably added "own a professional basketball team" to your list of goals. Here's how the league's current owners earned the cash to make it happen.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

1. Atlanta Hawks
Bruce Levenson, Michael Gearon Jr.

Owner Since: 2004

The Numbers: Forbes estimates the Hawks are worth $316 million, which makes them the 3rd-least valuable franchise in the NBA.

Group Ownership: Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr. are the majority partners of Atlanta Spirit Group, a consortium of seven businessmen who own the Atlanta Hawks and operate Phillips Arena (where they play). The original purchase in 2004 included the Atlanta Thrashers, but they sold off the hockey team in 2011 and the new ownership moved the team to Winnipeg.

How They Got Rich: Levenson co-founded United Communications Group (UCG), a business information corporation, in 1977. Gearon started a telecommunications company when he was 25 and sold it to American Tower, a builder and operator of communications towers, five years later.

2. Boston Celtics
Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C. (Wycliffe Grousbeck, CEO)

Owners Since: 2003

The Numbers: Purchased for $360 million in 2003, the Celtics are now worth an estimated $730 million. Seems like a good investment until you realize that they assume partial responsibility for the 1996 Dan Aykroyd vehicle Celtic Pride.

What’s in a Name?: When the investment group was formed, Grousbeck named it “Banner 17 LLC," symbolizing the quest for the Celtics' 17th NBA Championship. When that moment came in 2008, new business cards were needed.

How He Got Rich: Grousbeck was a partner at a successful venture capital firm where he specialized in medical technology and healthcare services.

3. Brooklyn Nets
Mikhail Prokhorov

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The Nets are worth an estimated $530 million, but operated at a considerable loss of $16 million last year (moving from New Jersey to New York will do that).

The Most Interesting Owner in the World: A shortlist of Prokhorov’s quirks and accomplishments:

- In 2012, he ran for president of Russia against Vladimir Putin. He garnered less than 10 percent of the vote.

- He stands 6’8”, making him the tallest owner in the NBA.

- One of his favorite hobbies is performing jet ski tricks (check YouTube, there’s proof).

- He heads the Russian Biathlon Union.

How He Got Rich: Nickel mines. Prokhorov bought up “reduced price” shares of the Norilsk Nickel company during Russia’s privatization spree after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2007, when he left the company, his shares were estimated to be worth $7.5 billion. Combined with his other mining ventures, the oligarch is worth about $13 billion.

4. Charlotte Bobcats
Michael Jordan

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The Bobcats are worth around $315 million, making them the second-to-least valuable NBA franchise. Michael Jordan and his investment group paid an estimated $175 million in 2010 to achieve majority ownership.

Name Change: In 2014, the Bobcats will change their name to the Hornets, restoring basketball order after the team and its name were moved to New Orleans in 2002.

How He Got Rich: Jordan is worth an estimated $650 million. His shoe brand controls over 50 percent of the basketball market and he maintains lucrative partnerships with Gatorade, Hanes, 2K Sports, and others. He also made a little bit of money playing basketball, a sport few fans are aware the famous baseball player tried his hand at.

5. Chicago Bulls
Jerry Reinsdorf

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: The Bulls are worth $800 million, making them the third-most valuable team in the league.

Packed Houses: The team plays in the NBA’s largest arena and boast more sellouts than any other team in the league.

How He Got Rich: Reinsdorf started his career as a tax attorney. He went on to specialize in real estate tax shelters and investments in properties that were under construction. In 1981, he bought the Chicago White Sox and followed that by purchasing the then-financially struggling Bulls in 1985. The next year the team drafted the owner listed directly above and the rest is history.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers
Dan Gilbert

Owner Since: 2005

The Numbers: The Cavaliers are worth $434 million according to Forbes, which is enough to put them right in the middle of the NBA money list at 15.

Tantrum: After LeBron James famously spurned the Cavs in 2010, Gilbert lashed out with an open letter, written late-night in Comic Sans and posted to the team’s website. In addition, Fathead, a company Gilbert owns that produces life-sized stickers, slashed the price of their LeBron Fathead to $17.41, the year of Benedict Arnold’s birth. What a deal!

How He Got Rich: Gilbert founded Quicken Loans Inc., the country’s largest online mortgage lender. He also helms Rock Gaming, a casino operator that has begun to profit on downtown Cleveland’s new gaming eligibility.

7. Dallas Mavericks
Mark Cuban

Owner Since: 2000

The Numbers: After buying the Mavericks from H. Ross Perot in 2000 for $280 million, the team is currently estimated to be worth $685 million.

NBA’s Extra Income Source: Cuban is notoriously outspoken and has been known to go on tirades against NBA management, referees, and even opposing players. All these outbursts have resulted in a total of $1,840,000 in fines paid to the association.

How He Got Rich: In 1995, Cuban started a small Internet radio company that eventually became Broadcast.com. He sold this venture to Yahoo! for almost $6 billion at the most opportune time—right before the dot com crash. He has now diversified his ventures and owns various entertainment businesses. According to Forbes, his net worth stands at $2.5 billion.

8. Denver Nuggets
Stan Kroenke

Owner Since: 2000

The Numbers: The Nuggets are worth $427 million, coming in at the number 19 spot in the NBA.

Other Notable Holdings: Kroenke heads Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which owns or holds considerable shares of the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, and St. Louis Rams.

How He Got Rich: As noted in our NFL Owners List, Kroenke is a real estate magnate who runs developments around the country, many of which are anchored by Walmart locations. (His wife, Anna Walton Kroenke, is the daughter of Bud Walton, co-founder with his brother Sam of Walmart).

9. Detroit Pistons
Tom Gores

Owner Since: 2011

The Numbers: The Pistons are worth $400 million, which Gores hopes to increase by updating the Palace of Auburn Hills (which he also purchased in 2011).

How He Got Rich: Born in Nazareth, Israel, Gores moved to Michigan when he was four years old. He is now is based in Beverly Hills and owns Platinum Equity LLC, a private equity firm. He is worth an estimated $2.5 billion.

10. Golden State Warriors
Peter Guber, Joe Lacob

Owners Since: 2010

On the Move?: The Warriors hope to move out of Oakland and into a yet-to-be-built arena located in San Francisco near the Bay Bridge.

How They Got Rich: Lacob is a venture capitalist and Guber is the CEO of film production company Mandalay Entertainment.

11. Houston Rockets
Leslie Alexander

Owner Since: 1993

The Numbers: The Houston Rockets are valued at $568 million, landing them 7th on the NBA’s rich list.

Beginner’s Luck: After purchasing the team in 1993, Alexander’s Rockets won their first title. Their WNBA equivalent, the Houston Comets, won the title in 1997—Alexander’s first year as their owner.

How He Got Rich: Alexander made his fortune trading stocks and corporate bonds. He currently owns and runs a Hamptons vineyard and wine club that requires a $50,000 initiation fee (which buys a lot of Bartles & Jaymes).

12. Indiana Pacers
Herbert Simon

Owner Since: 1983

The Numbers: The Pacers, who Simon bought for $10 million in 1983, are now worth $383 million.

How He Got Rich: Simon is the chairman of the Simon Property Group, a shopping mall development corporation. He also own Kirkus Reviews, a bi-monthly book review publication. His net worth is estimated to be around $2 billion.

13. Los Angeles Clippers
Donald Sterling

Owner Since: 1981

The Numbers: The Clippers are worth $430 million, less than half as much as their LA rivals, the Lakers.

Ugly Legal Battles: Sterling has been accused of racially-biased discrimination at some of his California real estate developments and is embroiled in a court battle over these alleged practices. He was also sued by NBA legend and former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor for underpayment due to racial discrimination.

How He Got Rich: Sterling began his career as a divorce lawyer but soon moved on to real estate ownership and investment. He used part of his fortune to buy the San Diego clippers for $12 million in 1981 and moved them to Los Angeles, bringing that famous San Diego sports luck with them.

14. Los Angeles Lakers
Jim and Jeanie Buss (along with a family trust)

Owner Since: 1979

The Numbers: The Lakers are worth $1 billion, a number that will soon see an increase due to a multi-billion cable TV deal.

The Old Guard: The Buss family are the longest-tenured owners in the NBA. After patriarch Jerry’s death earlier this year, a six-family member trust was assigned to take control and ownership of the team.

How They Got Rich: Jerry Buss studied to be a chemist, and worked in mining safety as well as aeronautics. He taught chemistry at USC and got involved with real estate to help supplement his income. He proved to be such a successful investor that he started doing it full-time--you can’t buy the Lakers on a teacher’s salary.

15. Memphis Grizzlies
Robert J. Pera

Owner Since: 2012

The Numbers: The Grizzlies are worth $377 million, according to Forbes’ evaluation.

Young’n: At 35, Robert Pera is the youngest franchise owner in the NBA. Tayshaun Prince and Keyon Dooling—the Grizzlies’ oldest players—are only two years younger than Pera. 

How He Got Rich: Pera worked as an engineer at Apple before starting his own company, Ubiquiti Networks. The company specializes in providing wireless networks to emerging and developing nations. He is worth a little under $2 billion and is one of the youngest billionaires in the world.

16. Miami Heat
Micky Arison

Owner Since: 1995

The Numbers: The Heat are the NBA’s 6th-most valuable franchise and are worth $625 million.

How He Got Rich: Arison is the son of Ted Arison, co-founder of Carnival Cruise Lines. Micky worked as the corporation’s CEO since 1979 before being replaced this June. Did he step down because of the hit the company took after their infamous “poop cruise” in February? This insider info is unknown, but it’s really fun to write “poop cruise.”

Arison’s net worth is estimated to be around $5.9 billion.

17. Milwaukee Bucks
Herb Kohl

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: Worth $312 million, the Bucks are the NBA’s least-valuable team. They have a cool mascot, though, and that's priceless.

Politics: Herb Kohl served as a U.S. Senator starting in 1989. He didn’t seek reelection in 2012 and left the halting quagmire that is Congress in order to watch the halting quagmire that is the Bucks’ offense.

How He Got Rich: Kohl was a stock trader and real estate investor before starting Kohl Investments, a venture that owns various stores and groceries, as well as the department store giant Kohl’s.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves
Glen Taylor

Owner Since: 1995

The Numbers: The Wolves’ worth is estimated to be around $364 million.

Politics, Again: Like Herb Kohl, Taylor spent time as a politician. He was a state senator in Minnesota throughout the ‘80s.

How He Got Rich: Taylor bought Carlson Wedding Service—a company he worked for—in 1975. He renamed it “Taylor Corp” and turned the wedding supplier into a commercial printing, marketing, and graphics communications venture. He is worth an estimated $1.7 billion.

19. New Orleans Pelicans
Tom Benson

Owner Since: 2012

The Numbers: The Pelicans are estimated to be worth $340 million.

Other Properties: Benson also owns the New Orleans Saints, a team whose name isn’t quite as stately or weighted with significance as “Pelicans.”

How He Got Rich: As stated in our NFL owners list, Benson runs multiple car dealerships in the New Orleans and San Antonio areas. He also invested in and purchased local banks to form Benson Financial, a company he eventually sold for $440 million.

20. New York Knicks
James Dolan

Owner Since: 1997

The Numbers: Valued at $1.1 billion, the Knicks are the most valuable franchise in the league. Keep in mind that “value” is used purely in the monetary sense here—winning, teamwork, or the willingness to play any semblance of defense are completely unrelated.

Music Man: Dolan’s first passion is music, and his blues band “JD and the Straight Shot” are going on tour with the Eagles this month. Good idea to get out of New York for the Knicks’ slow start.

How He Got Rich: The son of Charles Dolan, James inherited control of cable television giant Cablevision and is also the executive chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder
Professional Basketball Club LLC (Clayton Bennett, Chairman)

Owner Since: 2006

The Numbers: The Oklahoma City Thunder are worth $475 million, and are estimated to have made $30 million in profits last year. They are the 12th richest team in the NBA by Forbes’ estimation, making them the ultimate “small market” success story.

Goodbye, Seattle: Feeling good after hearing about the little team that could? If you are from Seattle, that warm and fuzzy feeling is anger-vomit creeping up. In 2006, Bennett and Professional Basketball Club LLC, the ownership group he chairs, bought the Seattle Supersonics and assured fans they would not be moved. Two years later, they were playing ball in OKC.

How He Got Rich: Clay Bennett is the chairman of the Oklahoma City-based investment firm Dorchester Capital Corp. Other members of the Thunder’s ownership group include Aubrey McClendon (chairman of Chesapeake Energy), Tom L. Ward (CEO of SandRidge Energy and a Chesapeake Energy co-founder), Everett R. Dobson (CEO of Dobson Technologies, a fiber optic and data storage business), and four others.

22. Orlando Magic
RDV Sports, Inc. (Richard DeVos, Chairman)

Owner Since: 1991

Ambitious Plans: In an interview in The Grand Rapids Press, DeVos stated that one of his goals was “to reform the Christian Reformed Church.” That’s a lot of reforming.

How He Got Rich: DeVos co-founded Amway in 1959, a company that sells products directly and through a series of independent businessmen and women who are free to recruit and train salespeople of their own.

23. Philadelphia 76ers
Adam Aron (CEO of the 76ers’ ownership group)

Owner Since: 2011

The Numbers: The Sixers are estimated to be worth $418 million.

Big Willy Style: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are investors in the team. This investment marks Smith’s first time on a basketball court in Philadelphia since he got in one little fight while shooting some b-ball outside of the school, frightening his mother and prompting her to send him to Bel Air, California to live with his Aunt and Uncle.

How He Got Rich: From 1996 to 2006, Aron was the CEO of Vail Resorts, the lucrative ski destination.

24. Phoenix Suns
Robert Sarver

Owner Since: 2004

The Numbers: Forbes estimates the Suns are worth $474 million.

How He Got Rich: Sarver is the son of prominent Tuscon businessman Jack Sarver. Robert Sarver has started, sold, acquired, and headed various banks in the southwest, including National Bank of Arizona, Western Alliance Bancorporation, and California Bank and Trust.

25. Portland Trail Blazers
Paul Allen

Owner Since: 1988

The Numbers: The Trail Blazers are worth an estimated $457 million.

Other Notable Holdings: Allen also owns the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders of the MLS. If you like watching professional sporting events in the rain, Paul Allen has you covered.

How He Got Rich: In 1975, Allen founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He is now worth around $15 billion, making him the NBA’s richest owner.

26. Sacramento Kings
Vivek Ranadivé

Owner Since: 2013

The Numbers: The Kings are estimated to be worth $525 million and are ranked 11th in Forbes’ NBA money list.

Close Call: The Kings were nearly sold by their previous owners, the Maloof family, and relocated to Seattle before Ranadivé and his ownership group swooped in and bought the team. Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and a former NBA point guard, was also instrumental in making sure the team stayed put.

How He Got Rich: Born in India and trained at MIT and Harvard, Ranadivé is a technology pioneer who helped take pencils, papers, and runners out of Wall Street trading and replaced them with computers in the 1980s. He is now the CEO of TIBCO, a real-time software company specializing in sports news and statistics.

27. San Antonio Spurs
Peter Holt

Owner Since: 1993

The Numbers: The Spurs are the ninth wealthiest team in the league—their net worth is estimated to be $527 million.

How He Got Rich: Holt is the great-grandson of Benjamin Holt, inventor of one of the first types of tractors. The company he started eventually merged with another manufacturer to form Caterpillar. Peter Holt owns the largest CAT dealership in America.

28. Toronto Raptors
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (Timothy Lieweke, CEO)

Owner Since: 1998

The Numbers: The Raptors are worth $405 million, or if you want to be more impressive, over 421 million Canadian dollars.

Other Ventures: Other than the Raptors, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment group owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto FC of the MLS, and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

How He Got Rich: Leiweke is the former CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, a consortium that owned the L.A. Kings, Galaxy, and a portion of the Lakers. They also run much of Downtown Los Angeles’ entertainment properties, as well as various stadia in the U.S. and around the world.

29. Utah Jazz
Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, Jazz Basketball Investors, Inc. (Greg Miller, CEO)

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: Purchased in 1985 for $24 million, the Jazz are now worth $432 million.

How He Got Rich: Miller's father, Larry, was a prominent Salt Lake City businessman who owned movie theaters, entertainment complexes, dozens of automotive dealerships, and a television station. He died due to complications with diabetes in 2009 and passed along control of the team to his son Greg.

30. Washington Wizards
Ted Leonsis

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The Wizards are worth $551 million, nearly enough coin to sign five Gilbert-Arenas-caliber free agents.

Other Ventures: Leonsis is also the majority owner of the Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. All three teams play in the Verizon Center, a property he also owns.

How He Got Rich: Leonsis sold his marketing company Redgate Communications to America Online in 1993 and served as an executive there until 2006. He is also the chairman of the board of directors at Groupon.

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16 Fun Facts About The Carol Burnett Show
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CBS

After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. To celebrate the legendary comedienne's 85th birthday, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.


CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.


By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

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14 Wild Facts About Double Dare
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Nickelodeon

Some game shows will reward you with cars and cash prizes for being smart and intuitive. Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, which ran from 1986 to 1993 and taped more than 500 episodes, gave its kid contestants bicycles or boom boxes in exchange for fetching giant balls of snot from oversized noses.

To celebrate Double Dare's return—Nickelodeon just announced that it has ordered 40 more episodes of the gross game show—we thought we’d drop some facts on the show’s history, the comedian originally set to host, and how one kid wound up snapping a bone in half on the perpetually hazardous course.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY MOUSE TRAP.

While kicking around ideas for a kid-oriented game show, Nickelodeon executive—and Double Dare co-creator—Geoffrey Darby recalled that a staffer brought up the classic board game Mouse Trap, which invited players to lure a (fake) mouse into a custom-built holding pen. Darby picked up on the thread, pitching the series as a Rube Goldberg machine that used people instead of balls.

2. DANA CARVEY WAS OFFERED THE HOSTING GIG.

Before settling on onetime magician Marc Summers, Double Dare looked at hundreds of host candidates. Soupy Sales, a comedian who had a popular kids’ show in the 1950s, was considered; so was Dana Carvey, who was reportedly offered the job on the same day he was invited to join Saturday Night Live. He opted for the sketch show, leaving the slot open for Summers.

3. THE VERY FIRST OBSTACLE COURSE WAS A DISASTER.

For the uninitiated, Double Dare typically pitted two teams against one another in a series of increasingly difficult—and disgusting—challenges, culminating with a run through a slime- and cream-covered obstacle course. When the show taped its first episode in September 1986, producers directed the contestants to find a flag hidden in a giant bag of feathers. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to hide the flag. On take two, the contestant was so rough with the feathers they didn’t see the flag had been gently placed within easy view. On the third take, a cameraman fell into the frame. They got it on the fourth try.

4. THE SET HAD ITS OWN SEWAGE SYSTEM.


Nickelodeon

Although Double Dare began on a studio set at a Philadelphia television station, it eventually moved to Nickelodeon’s home base in Orlando, Florida. The stage—which was usually filled with tourists visiting Universal Studios Orlando—was built specifically to accommodate the overflow of disgusting waste material created by the production. A sewage system allowed crew members to mop the glop off the floor and directly into grates. The “clean team” went through between 600 and 1000 towels per taping to erase any residual signs of slime.

5. THE STAGE WAS A TOTAL SLIPPING HAZARD.

No matter how much the crew steam-cleaned, vacuumed, or mopped, the bathroom-like tile of the stage floor maintained its essential sheen of foot-slipping gloss. The crew eventually grew accustomed to sliding across the set in tiny shuffle steps, similar to how you’d navigate a frozen-over driveway.  

6. THERE WAS ONE GRUESOME INJURY.

Despite a space that would never pass OSHA standards, surprisingly few participants were ever actually harmed during taping of Double Dare—with one exception. During one obstacle, a child running across the floor slipped, braced himself, and snapped his arm so severely the bone poked through the skin. Summers would later recall that the kid had lied on his application and may have had a preexisting health condition that made his bones more brittle. Because he wanted to appear on the show so badly, he didn’t mention it.

7. “GAK” WAS A SLANG TERM FOR HEROIN—AND SLIME.

It was inevitable that Double Dare would spawn a series of tie-in products, including board games and apparel. The show also helped licensees create GAK, a rubbery, goopy substance meant to mimic the slime seen on the series. The name came from crew members who worked on the show as a kind of homage to the street term for heroin, a factoid that went over most parents' heads.

8. THEY USED A THREE-TRIES RULE FOR NEW CHALLENGES.


Nickelodeon

After designing a new obstacle, producers would invite kids from the Philadelphia area on non-shoot days to give it a shot. If a child couldn’t get through it in three tries, the idea would be scrapped.

9. IT USED TONS OF FOOD.

In 1987, The New York Times convinced a show staffer to tabulate the gross amount of food material used during a typical taping of the show. Their tally: 50 gallons of whipped cream, 30 gallons of slime, dozens of eggs, and 100 cubic feet of popcorn. To offset concerns over food waste, the production used as much post-dated canned material or other past-due goods as they could.

10. PEOPLE WENT BONKERS OVER THE SHOW.

While kids were delighted to have a game show that rewarded sloppiness, they weren’t the only ones watching. After just nine months on the air, Double Dare fan clubs popped up at Cornell and Ohio State University; the production received more than 10,000 letters every month, with a portion coming from parents griping that they had to postpone dinner because their kids insisted on viewing the messy show precisely at 5:30 p.m.

11. SUMMERS HAS HOSTED BOOTLEG VERSIONS.

 With Nickelodeon wary of producing a full-blown revival of the series—the Summers-less Double Dare 2000 was not fondly received—the host has taken to emceeing unlicensed versions of the show for locally organized events. Every year, Summers hosts Dunkel Dare, a beer-themed challenge attraction that takes place during Philadelphia’s Beer Week.

12. SUMMERS WAS BELOVED BY SOME MOMS.


Nickelodeon

For years, Summers and Double Dare toured the country, doing live shows for crowds who were eager to try out the obstacles but couldn’t get to Orlando. After the live show, Summers would typically meet with fans to sign autographs. “There were all the mothers who would hand me their telephone numbers during the meet-and-greet after the show and tell me to call them when their husbands weren’t home,” he told People. “There was all sorts of nutty stuff going on.”

13. THEY DIDN’T ENDORSE JUST ANYTHING.

As alien a concept as it may seem today, Nickelodeon didn’t want to slap the Double Dare brand on anything that came along. The show turned down $1 million offered by watchmaker Casio to be the “official” time clock of the series; according to Summers, the network also refused another $1 million to license a Double Dare cereal.

14. THEY DID OFFER A CAR—ONCE.

With a tight budget, the original Double Dare generally kept the threshold for prizes low. In 1987, producers awarded a miniature automobile to a winning team strictly for their own amusement. Said executive producer Geoffrey Darby: “We wanted to be able to hear a kid scream, ‘It’s a new car!’”

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