NBA Owners Approve Hornets' Move

Friday, May 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ NBA owners approved the Hornets' move to New Orleans on Friday, assuring that the team's 13-year era in Charlotte is about to come to an end.

Representatives from the league's 29 ownership groups voted on a conference call and approved the relocation, which had been recommended 10 days ago by a seven-owner committee and was endorsed by commissioner David Stern.

It is the second time in as many years that an NBA franchise has been allowed to change cities. Last summer, the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver to Memphis.

Before that, the NBA had gone 16 years without a team changing cities.

``The fans, the civic leaders and the business community of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana have demonstrated their overwhelming interest in having an NBA team,'' Stern said in a news release. ``Based on the level of commitment and excitement already generated, I am confident that the foundation has been set for a successful Hornets franchise in New Orleans.''

The Hornets will begin playing at the New Orleans Arena next season, although the date of their final game in Charlotte is not yet known.

Playing before a half-empty Charlotte Coliseum on Thursday night, the Hornets defeated the New Jersey Nets 115-97 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal. The Nets lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.

The league did not disclose the vote count in announcing approval of the move. A majority of 15 votes was needed.

The Hornets' ownership will no longer be involved in the operation of the WNBA's Charlotte Sting. The Sting will stay in Charlotte under the management of the WNBA.

Fans at Thursday night's Hornets game directed a loud, derogatory chant at co-owner George Shinn, whose relationship with Charlotte politicians and Hornets fans contributed to the team's departure.

The Hornets led the league in attendance for several seasons after entering the league during the expansion era of the late 1980s. But the relationship among the fans, owners and local politicians deteriorated, and the team was last in the NBA in attendance this season.

The team lost $15 million in Charlotte last season and could lose $20 million this season, co-owner Ray Wooldridge said.

Shinn, Wooldridge and local officials scheduled a news conference in New Orleans on Friday to announce the approval.

Back in Charlotte, coach Paul Silas described how frustrating the issue has been.

``It's like a kid when his parents go through a divorce,'' Silas said. ``It affects him, but really he has nothing to do with it. That's kind of the way this was. All the questions were directed at us. Our owners weren't saying anything and, really, the other side wasn't saying a lot, so we got kind of stuck with it. We've done what we're supposed to do. We won games.''

New Orleans has tried to attract an NBA team since the Jazz left for Utah in 1979. After missing out on the Timberwolves in 1994 and the Grizzlies last year, the city and state went all out to land the Hornets.

Business leaders spearheaded an effort to sell season tickets and suites, eventually exceeding the league's guideline of 2,400 club seats, which require a 3-to-5-year agreement. Fifty-five suites were also sold on the same basis.

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster last month signed a bill that would give the sports franchise $1.75 million in state cash to cover the costs of moving expenses.

The approval of the Board of Governors was considered a near-certainty, having received the blessing of the commissioner and the relocation committee.

Friday's vote brings some closure to the matter, although the Hornets won't be heading out of Charlotte for good until they are either knocked out of the playoffs or win their first championship.

Silas said among the things that upset him most was having to sell his home, which he bought two years ago.

``I'd just rather not even deal with it, to tell you the truth. I tell you, when I look out at the golf course while sitting inside my house, it's not a comforting feeling to know I'm going to have to sell. It's just a shame it had to come to this, to tell you the truth,'' Silas said.

The Hornets have had their ups and downs since entering the NBA. They made the playoffs seven times with rosters that have included All-Stars Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, Eddie Jones, Vlade Divac and Glen Rice, but they also repeatedly lost players to free agency _ one of the early factors in fueling the fans' dissatisfaction.

``When I first came here, it was sort of going down a little bit, but not to the magnitude that it is now,'' Silas said. ``It was still an exciting place to be with Dave (Cowens) coaching. We had a good team. We won 50 games that year.

``Just to see it fall off the end of the Earth for everyone out there, it's just disheartening,'' Silas added. ``It just really leaves you kind of empty. That's the best word I can use.''