Hornets move into a pothole
Terence Moore - Staff
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Blame it on smugness. Either that, or the desire to protect the guilty in the NBA from verbal snipers in the future. Whatever the case, league bosses won't discuss the silly vote that sent the Hornets dribbling from Charlotte to New Orleans.
Here's the inside word: With a majority of the 29 owners needed to approve the deal, there was just one dissenter. Who? Well, it likely was the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban. That's because he told the truth last week by saying he doubted New Orleans' ability to support another pro franchise in Louisiana's brutal economy.
New Orleans has one Fortune 500 company, and that company is on the verge of moving to Florida. Despite all of that stifling humidity, the public schools lacked funds for air conditioning until this year. Then you have the potholes. They are nearly as prevalent around New Orleans as crawfish. And now, with the Hornets coming to an area that lacks a significant middle class, you're asking many of its citizens to choose between attending an NBA game and purchasing bread for a month.
You also have that foreigner's thing. If you aren't from within a bayou or three, you are considered a foreigner in this city that loves its own thing. See Mardi Gras, along with New Orleans' special brand of funerals and music. In the midst of that, you have the defiance of George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge, natives of North Carolina and Tennessee, respectfully, refusing as co-owners of the Hornets to change the team's name and colors to something more indigenous to New Orleans.
Speaking of Shinn and Wooldridge, let's move to that Tom Benson thing. Benson is the 75-year-old owner of the Saints and the most despised sports personality in New Orleans. He'll have to share the latter tag after those in New Orleans get more of Shinn and Wooldridge.
Benson infuriated the Saints' dwindling fan base even more last week by firing popular general manager Randy Mueller during a rambling press conference. This is the same Benson who has spent the recent part of his 18 years with the Saints whining about the need to leave the mostly adequate Superdome for a publicly financed stadium filled with luxury boxes. After threats to move the Saints to San Antonio, to Los Angeles or to any other place that could stuff his pockets, Benson finally relented near the end of last season, but not without a price to Louisiana taxpayers.
The same politicians who can't fix those potholes agreed to renovate the Superdome. They also gave Benson $18 million for each of the next 10 years, and New Orleans fumed. In other words, New Orleans resembled Charlotte after Shinn and Wooldridge held that city hostage in search of a publicly financed arena with luxury boxes. Shinn also was involved in a highly publicized sex scandal that really turned Charlotte against the supposedly Bible-toting owner and his team.
Those in the Carolinas tired so much of Shinn and Wooldridge that they ceased attending Hornets games after helping the expansion team lead the NBA in attendance eight times. Then Shinn and Wooldridge saw that New Orleans' state-of-the-art arena was vacant. After NBA commissioner David Stern told New Orleans what it had to do in the short run to get the Hornets, New Orleans responded. It ranged from selling a slew of luxury boxes and club seats to acquiring a television deal.
Now the NBA, the Hornets and New Orleans must deal with the long run. In the long run, bringing the Hornets to New Orleans will be as successful as placing a curfew on Bourbon Street.