Stern Looking Forward To NBA's Return To Oklahoma City

Friday, April 13th 2007, 8:01 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- NBA commissioner David Stern attended the New Orleans Hornets' final regular-season game in their temporary home Friday and complimented Oklahoma City for an "absolutely extraordinary" job as host.

Before the start of the game, Stern took a microphone and thanked the city, state, government leaders and fans.

"Most of all, thank you to the fans of this most major league of cities," Stern said to loud cheers. "I look forward to the day that the NBA will return to Oklahoma City."

Oklahoma City hosted 71 of the Hornets' 82 home games over the past two seasons, with the finale against Denver becoming the 30th time the Ford Center was sold out. The Hornets are to return home for their full schedule next season.

The Hornets had a pregame video tribute thanking the fans as the best in the NBA, and the team's starters were introduced from the arena's concourses and walked to the court through the stands, slapping high-fives with fans who stood to cheer.

Fans were given an OKC patch, like the one the Hornets have worn on their jerseys since Hurricane Katrina forced them to vacate the New Orleans Arena, and white T-shirts that read "NBA (heart) OKC." The Hornets wore jerseys that read 'Oklahoma City' on the front that were to be given away to fans after the game.

"When we were looking for ways to say, `Thank you,' first we came up with the hard ones like a T-shirt that expresses our love for Oklahoma City," Stern said in a pregame news conference. "And then there's the easy one: Put Stern on a plane for a couple hours, enjoy the game and say thank you. That's what I'm here for."

Hornets owner George Shinn and point guard Chris Paul, last year's Rookie of the Year, also addressed the crowd before the game.

"If we keep winning games, we'll get a couple more games back here in Oklahoma City," said Paul, referring to the team's remaining playoff hopes.

Stern said he expected the league to find an "intelligent system" to allow the team's games to be broadcast on television and radio in Oklahoma City next season and allow Oklahomans to "continue their relationship with the Hornets."

Before he could even be asked, Stern gave his thoughts on a city that had never before hosted a major pro sports franchise.

"Yes, you've exceeded our wildest expectations. Yes, Oklahoma City has demonstrated that it's a major league city. Yes, it would be my expectation that we would have a team here someday. No, I don't have any particular team in mind," Stern said.

Stern characterized Oklahoma City's average attendance of 18,329 fans over the two seasons as "very, very strong in our view," and compared the city to Orlando, San Antonio, Portland and Sacramento -- other cities that have an NBA team as their only major league franchise.

"I think the last two years here have demonstrated that this city can do the job as well," Stern said.

Stern said he didn't think the Ford Center, which cost only $89 million and opened in 2002, necessarily needed to be upgraded to host an NBA team in the future.

Stern also addressed the team's return to New Orleans, saying he hoped to have more sponsorship dollars and more season-ticket holders when the Hornets get back than they had in previous seasons in the city.

"I'll tell you what. We're going to work very hard so that we can say at the end of next season that they did just as well in New Orleans as they did in Oklahoma City," Stern said. "That's a really tall order, and I'm not sure that's a successful prescription that we can reach, but we're going to do our best to do it. That's all you can do is your best."

Stern said the NBA would be involved in the team's search for a practice facility in New Orleans that was promised as part of its lease.

"We are honoring our obligation to be back in New Orleans," Stern said.

Stern called New Orleans "a changed city" but reiterated the league's commitment there.

"The Hornets have their work cut out for them. Then NBA has our work cut out for it. But against the tragedies that there are in life, that's not a tragedy to work hard," Stern said. "We're planning to do it, and we're planning to succeed."