Charlotte and the NBA head for divorce
Who is to blame for the Hornets-Charlotte fiasco? While owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge seem almost certain to be packing their bags for the Big Easy within months, was it stubbornness on Charlotte?s behalf which sealed their fate?
There is no question that Shinn is disliked in Charlotte, but when push becomes shove is it really beneficial for the city to boycott business dealings with him just because of this dislike? This is one of the many questions that the current Hornets owners are asking, adding that people should also be asking what the City of Charlotte could do differently to keep the Hornets as well as asking ownership the same question.
"Everybody keeps asking what me and my partner could have done differently," Wooldridge said. "No one asked, `What could the community have done differently, what could the political leaders have done differently?' "
"I just didn't think anybody wanted to make it work," Wooldridge said. "We've all made mistakes, but that doesn't mean you don't look toward the long-term future of something."
Wooldridge claimed that the city officials had already agreed to help fund a new arena, to which Shinn and himself invested $6 million, and wondered why the arena plan ever went to a referendum. "Doesn't a pro team bring economic stimulus to the local economy? That's what New Orleans finally decided,? said Wooldridge.
The partnership between the city and the team quickly turned from a match made in heaven behind the team consisting of Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues to a team which now has the reputation of pinching pennies, trading top players in the last year of their deals for others with longer term contracts to avoid paying out the money. A packed Charlotte Colosseum has seen Alonzo Mourning turn into Glenn Rice, who has turned into Eddie Jones, who turned into PJ Brown and Jamal Mashburn. This instability has seen the crowds leave in droves despite the team still being successful, the Hornets coming within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals last season before going down in game 7 to Milwaukee.
NBA commissioner David Stern said the Hornets had to sell 2,400 club seats, find three more corporate sponsors, complete a television deal and wrap up the paperwork on the sales of 55 suites before the close of business on Wednesday. If the Hornets meet those demands, the league's owners will vote on April 9 to approve or deny the move, something Wooldridge guaranteed would happen. At the close of business Thursday, the Hornets were 696 season tickets short.
But with Vancouver moving to Memphis last season, Mike Wise of the New York Times cannot help but wonder how the votes on the move will go, a move from Charlotte to New Orleans meaning that two teams have moved from larger to smaller markets in the last 24 months.
"I don't think it says that much about the long-term viability of the N.B.A.'s future," Wooldridge said. "You've got a new TV deal, international opportunities sprouting up all over. I'm very confident about the business future of the league."
Of New Orleans, he said, "There's 2.5 million people in the region; there's tremendous opportunity in being one of the only games in town."