James Crockett, Sr.

James Crockett, Sr.

Name: James Crockett, Sr.
Year Inducted: 2015

Big Jim Crockett

The sign on the door at 1111 East Morehead Street in Charlotte said “Wrestlers Welcome,” and that was the hallmark of Jim Crockett Sr.’s approach to wrestling for more than 40 years. “Big Jim” operated restaurants, booked fishing tournaments, and rubbed elbows with artists from Gene Autry to James Brown. But the bedrock of Jim Crockett Promotions was pro wrestling and he kept it alive through good times and bad in Virginia and the Carolinas. “Jim respected his wrestlers. He knew where his money was coming from and the wrestlers knew what a gentleman he was. He never cheated you, he didn’t have to cheat you. He was fair with all the wrestlers,” said Rip Hawk, one of his top stars.

“Big Jim”—he weighed more than 300 pounds—was born June 2, 1908 in Bristol, Va., and raised along the Virginia-Tennessee border. He started his promotional career when he was still a student at Bristol High School by running boxing battle royals. After a year in college, he decided to become a full-time promoter. With a friend, he formed the Southeastern Corporation, borrowed $50, hired a hall and put on matches in Bristol. In 1933, he was promoting from Greensboro, North Carolina to Kingsport, Tennessee and took over Charlotte in August 1934. Within five years, his reach extended to 20 cities in the mid-Atlantic territory and he paid three publicity men $100each per week to hype his shows. That set a course that would continue until his death 40 years later.

Crockett was known for running a stable territory with a heavy emphasis on tag team wrestling—the Becker Brothers, the Smith Brothers, Swede Hanson and Hawk, and the Bolos were just some of his headliners. He was the one responsible for putting together George Becker and Johnny Weaver, the territory’s top babyface team for years. Yet for someone who cut a wide public figure, he tried to remain as unpretentious as possible. He preferred to drive an old Chrysler instead of the Cadillacs so popular with wrestlers. “It’s a great car,” he said, “but I don’t want my customers to see me driving to the show looking like a fat cat. Not when they’re having problems digging up $1.50 for a balcony seat.”

Crockett was an early and important member of the National Wrestling Alliance, joining in 1951. His company was known for fair pay and regular work; in 1972, Jim Crockett Promotions ran an astonishing 714 house shows with a total attendance of more than 1.5 million fans, according to Crockett historian Carroll Hall. “Jim knew his people, and he had an uncanny knack of knowing what they wanted to see,” said Joe “The Assassin” Hamilton. “On the list of promoters that I’ve met throughout my career, Mr. Crockett rates near the top of the list.”

Given his girth, it was unsurprising that Crockett suffered from heart disease late in his life. He died of a heart attack on April 1, 1973. His legacy lived on for years as the promotion, run by his family, became the core of the NWA until Ted Turner bought the company in 1988. “He was a remarkable man,” wrote Susan Jetton of the Charlotte Observer on his passing.

– STEVEN JOHNSON

 

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