|Friday, May 10
Updated: May 11, 11:50 AM ET
NBA allows Hornets to move to New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS -- In the end, the vote that cleared the way for the Hornets to leave Charlotte was a Big Easy.
NBA owners voted 28-1 Friday to approve the team's move at the conclusion of this season. Team owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge, reviled in Charlotte, paraded behind a brass band as they entered a news conference in their new city among a cadre of politicians.
The celebration came a little more than two hours after the NBA announced that representatives of the league's 29 ownership groups had voted to approve the Hornets' move from Charlotte.
The exact vote count was not released, but team co-owner Ray Wooldridge said "it was overwhelmingly in our favor."
Numerous executives from around the league, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the vote was 28-1, with the Memphis Grizzlies attaching conditions to their "yes" vote that kept the tally from being unanimous.
The Hornets' 14-year run in Charlotte will end soon. The team is still playing, trailing the New Jersey Nets 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals. They won 115-97 Thursday night at the half-empty Charlotte Coliseum.
After a referendum to finance a new arena was defeated last year, the Hornets' owners said they needed to relocate to avoid millions of dollars in annual losses, in part from drastically declining attendance.
The offer from New Orleans has been described in league circles as extremely generous, and a seven-owner relocation committee recommended approval 10 days earlier.
"The unanimous recommendation by the relocation committee was thoroughly persuasive," Seattle SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz said.
"As time went on, members of our relocation committee became more comfortable with what we saw in New Orleans," Russ Granik, the NBA deputy commissioner told ESPN.com. "From the ticket sales to the media deals, it just got more and more positive. At the same time, we felt there wasn't going to be a guarantee that there would be a new building built in Charlotte any time in the near future."
A giant New Orleans Hornets jersey was unveiled at the news conference. Champagne was uncorked, and hundreds of purple and teal balloons were released.
Shinn expressed some regrets about leaving North Carolina.
"It's very difficult. I grew up there. I was educated there. My children were raised there," Shinn told The Associated Press. "I still have family and friends there -- a lot of people that I cherish the relationship. It's hard to uproot, but we had no choice."
The move to Louisiana came after an unprecedented effort by city and state officials, members of Congress and civic leaders to convince NBA officials that the poverty-riddled state's economic future is bright and that the financially struggling city could support a second pro sports franchise in addition to the NFL's Saints.
Business leaders spearheaded an effort to sell season tickets and suites, eventually exceeding the league's goals.
"There was a fair amount of skepticism given the demographic data we received," Granik told ESPN.com. "But as time went on, the civic and business leaders convinced us that we could make it work."
When the Hornets gave their last update, they had sold more than 10,500 season tickets and had three-to-five-year agreements on 55 luxury suites.
Gov. Mike Foster promised and delivered legislative approval of millions of dollars in incentive expenditures for the team: $10 million to upgrade the state-owned New Orleans Arena, plus several million more to be generated each year from the New Orleans area hotel tax.
"Having that arena almost ready in New Orleans is huge," Granik said. "Playing in the Superdome was a problem for the Jazz when they played there and we've realized that domes don't work as well for our game. The Alamodome is the last one and they will be out of it at the end of the season."
"I'm happy for this to be called my home," Wooldridge told The Associated Press. "When I'm here that's how I feel -- at home."
The NBA vote Friday officially made the Hornets lame ducks in Charlotte. Players said they would continue to focus on their series against the Nets -- not the impending move.
"There's a lot going on right now that's pretty important -- not to say (the move) is not important -- but we have a focus of trying to win a championship and trying to win the next game to get to that point," team captain David Wesley said just before the vote.
Fans at the game Thursday night directed a loud, derogatory chant at Shinn, whose relationship with Charlotte politicians and Hornets fans contributed to the team's departure.
This is the second time in two 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 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, Wooldridge said.
A source has told ESPN.com that there will be a $2 million-$3 million relocation fee the Hornets will have to pay the NBA.
Hornets 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.
David Fredman, former public relations director for the New Orleans Jazz and now an assistant general manager for the Denver Nuggets, said the Jazz were mismanaged from a basketball standpoint in New Orleans.
"We traded a lot of draft picks and the media was not always told the truth," Fredman told ESPN.com.
"The walkup crowd was good. But we only had 2,600 full season tickets sold and season tickets are the lifeblood of a franchise. If the weather's bad or if there are injuries, you don't have to worry on a game-to-game basis," Fredman said.
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.