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San Antonio businessman B.J. 'Red' McCombs dies at 95

San Antonio businessman B.J. "Red" McCombs died on Sunday at the age of 95.

McCombs built an automotive sales and service empire, but he also was known for his ownership of professional sports teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets, and the Minnesota Vikings.

He also had business interests in energy, ranching, real estate development, and radio broadcasting, co-founding Clear Channel Communications.

In 2020, Forbes Magazine estimated his wealth at $1.5 billion.

A family statement explained that "the entire McCombs Family is heartbroken to announce that our father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Red McCombs, passed away on Sunday February 19, 2023."

Billy Joe Red McCombs was born in the West Texas town of Spur in 1927. He got his nickname from the color of his hair.

His first job was at age 10, selling peanuts for a nickel a bag.

He and his family used their McCombs Foundation to make philanthropic gifts surpassing $135 million, including the business college at the University of Texas, which bears his name, and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

His wife of 69 years, Charline, passed away on December 2019.

"I never had any plan to have all the success that I've had,” McCombs explained during a 2011 interview on KLRN, San Antonio's PBS affiliate, with TPR’s then-News Director David Martin Davies. “I am a natural entrepreneur." He also shared his memories in his 2011 autobiography, Big Red: Memoirs of a Texas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist.

No one on either side of his family, McCombs remembered, had ever been in business. Both grandparents were sharecroppers in West Texas. His father was an auto mechanic. McCombs was the oldest of four children. The family grew during the Great Depression, “and times were lean,” he recalled later, “but we had a loving family, and the McCombs kids suffered no hardships.”

Since he was ten years old, McCombs recalled, "I was fascinated with how business worked — how the bank worked, how the drugstore worked, how the grocery store worked — how did all that come together."

"And there wasn’t any goal to be rich,” he added. “I do have a goal in everything I do, and my goal is to win. And I look at every day as an opportunity to win or not win, and I kind of grade myself every day as to what I accomplished that day ... I never doubted that I would be very successful."

McCombs was among a group of San Antonio businessmen who purchased the Dallas-based Chaparrals of the American Basketball Association, or ABA, and moved the team to San Antonio before the 1973-1974 season, according to the Handbook of Texas.

The move appeared to be a financial longshot since the Chapparals only attracted 134 fans at their last home game at the Dallas Convention Center.

But during the first season at HemisFair Arena, the newly named Spurs made a significant trade that brought the "Iceman" George Gervin to San Antonio from the Virginia Squires.

The ABA folded in 1976, and the Spurs moved to the NBA. Soon after, the team lead by Gervin won five divisional titles in its first seven seasons in the league. He led the league in scoring four times in five seasons.

He considered the Spurs his biggest community accomplishment for San Antonio.

In 1993, McCombs sold his interest in the Spurs to a consortium of investors for $75 million.

The Spurs won the first of five NBA Championships in the 1998-1999 season in a 4-1 series against the New York Knicks.

He was the subject of a Spurs tribute video in 2022. The Spurs' David Robinson, Coach Greg Popovich, and Gervin appeared at the end of the video to praise McCombs.

"You've been an encouragement," Robinson said. "You've been an inspiration to me, you've been an example to me. You've been one of my biggest supporters and you've been a friend."

Popovich added: "I still remember you walking into Incarnate Word in those cowboy boots and that giant hat that you had on your head, and I'm just a city boy from Gary, and I had no idea who I was working for, and I thank you for your lessons.

"Thank you for just being you," Gervin said. "Just being Red McCombs."

"Red McCombs was a pillar of San Antonio’s modern history and a titan of our local economy," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweeted on Monday. "His influence was instrumental in creating the city we know today. Our hearts are with the McCombs family and the thousands of residents he uplifted through his generosity."

In a statement to TPR, he added: "From economic development to the rise to our higher education institutions to professional sports here in San Antonio — and one of the most well recognized brands in the San Antonio Spurs — if I had to pick out one thing that I'll remember Red McCombs most for is the lifting of the expectations of a city to be a city of the world, a top ten American city, a vibrant city where we can expect and deserve more. That's the kind of optimism and expectation that Red brought to our community in many ways."

Dave Petersen, the interim president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, also honored McCombs, who served as the chamber's Chair of the Board in 1965. McCombs "was a San Antonio legend and visionary," Petersen said in a statement, "whose business acumen and positive influence helped shape our city and set it on a trajectory of growth, development, and success."

David Martin Davies, Paul Flahive and Steve Short contributed to this report.

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