Hornets' owners excited about Big Easy'
By BY RICHARD DARK/Special to The Star
May 12, 2002
NEW ORLEANS Leave it to a Mississippi State boy to bring professional basketball back to the Big Easy.
MSU alumnus Ray Wooldridge, co-owner of the Charlotte Hornets National Basketball Association franchise, along with George Shinn, saw their nearly
six months of hard work come to fruition Friday afternoon as the league officially cleared the way for the Hornets to relocate to New Orleans.
After a conference call vote by the league's 29 owners two hours earlier, the affirmation was given in typical New Orleans style at a downtown press
conference that was filled with plenty of pomp and pageantry.
The two owners, along with high ranking city officials, including recently departed Mayor Marc Morial, made their grand entrance to the celebratory
proceedings accompanied by a parading brass band.
Although no one on hand would divulge the tally of the recommendation vote, anonymous league sources told the Associated Press NBA owners voted 28-1 to approve the team's move following the season's end. The
Hornets are playing the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals and trail in that series 2-1, with Sunday's Game 4 to be played in the now lame-duck town of Charlotte.
Reportedly, the Memphis Grizzlies, ironically the team New Orleans tried unsuccessfully to woo last season, was the lone dissenter, attaching several
conditions to a yes response which kept the vote from being unanimous.
Symbolism ruled the day, as moments after a huge New Orleans Hornets jersey was unveiled, Shinn took a moment to thank the city of Charlotte for its support of the club over the past 14 seasons. As he did so, behind him dozens of just-released purple and teal balloons floated away into the New Orleans skyline.
After a referendum to finance a new arena was defeated by voters last year, Shinn and Wooldridge said they needed to relocate to avoid millions of
dollars in annual losses. Much of that stemmed in part from drastically declining attendance as fans and local officials displayed their obvious distaste for the duo who cited a need for a new facility.
This year, the Hornets' attendance has plummeted to last in the league, following a period of a decade in which they were at the top of that list. Wooldridge has said the team could lose up to $20 million this season after recording a $15 million setback last year.
But Friday's talk was about none of that, only of the future. And for the city that loves any chance to party, champagne was also in order to celebrate the NBA's presence in Louisiana, following a nearly 23-year absence when the Jazz left for Salt Lake City Utah after the 1979 season.
That they did.
Team staffers and city business leaders stepped to the proverbial foul line and delivered, exceeding league goals by selling nearly 11,000 season tickets and commitments to 55 luxury suites in the 18,500-seat New Orleans arena, all the while under the gun of severe time constraints set forth by not only themselves, but NBA commissioner David Stern, as well.
started that we would be here. I never thought the final decision would be no. I had all the confidence in the world."
Sort of Bulldog-esque tenacity, one might say.