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Friday, January 10
Johnson's Charlotte franchise to play in 2004-05

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved the league's 30th franchise Friday, a team in Charlotte that will be owned by billionaire Robert Johnson and begin play in the 2004-05 season.

"It gives me great pleasure to welcome Charlotte back into the NBA, since we appreciate how supportive their fans have been in the past,'' commissioner David Stern said.

"We are particularly excited to have Robert Johnson as our newest owner. Bob has shown a great understanding for building a new company, and we are confident in his ability to develop a strong NBA organization.''

The approval of the Board of Governors, with one representative of each of the 29 ownership groups, was considered a formality.

"We are delighted and honored that the board of governors voted unanimously to ratify the recommendation of the expansion committee,'' said Naomi Travers, a spokeswoman for Johnson. "We look forward to building a first-class basketball franchise along with the city of Charlotte and the basketball fans of Charlotte.''

Nelson Schwab, an investment fund head who has led the Charlotte business community's effort to keep the NBA in town, echoed those words.

"It's just one more step along the way,'' said Nelson Schwab, an investment fund head who has led the Charlotte business community's effort to keep the NBA in town. "Obviously, we are pleased the entire board of governors endorsed it.

"This is good news for Charlotte and we continue to be excited. "There's still a lot of things to do and we're ticking them off one at a time.''

Only one owner, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, expressed public reservations over whether expanding to 30 teams was a sound idea.

The new team will replace the Hornets, who left Charlotte after last season and relocated to New Orleans.

Johnson also takes over ownership of the WNBA's Charlotte Sting, effective immediately.

He was chosen last month by the NBA's expansion committee, getting the nod over a group led by Boston businessman Steve Belkin that included Hall of Famer Larry Bird. The price of the new franchise was $300 million.

Johnson is the founder and chief executive officer of Black Entertainment Television, a subsidiary of Viacom Inc. He becomes the first black majority owner of a major American professional sports franchise.

In 2000, Johnson sold BET to Viacom for approximately $3 billion. The all-stock transaction made Johnson the second largest individual shareholder in Viacom behind its chairman, Sumner Redstone.

Johnson's team will play its inaugural season in the Charlotte Coliseum and move to a new $260 million arena to be constructed for the 2005-06 NBA season.

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