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Hornets owner Shinn sells 25 percent of team to La. investor group

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn has
agreed to sell 25 percent of his NBA franchise to a family-owned
investor group led by south Louisiana businessman Gary Chouest.

Shinn introduced Chouest, owner of a Galliano, La.-based
offshore supply company, at a dinner hosted by the team Tuesday
night. And Shinn hailed his new partner's involvement as proof that
the Hornets were serious about becoming a long-term fixture in this
recovering city.

"I need somebody that has roots here, that has a business here,
that has connections here, that's going to fight for it the same
way I do, that's going to help me sell tickets," Shinn said of his
new minority partner. "He's got a skin in the game now. He's going
to do it. That's what we need to make this thing work. It's not
just money."

The new owner is a group called Slam Dunk, owned by Chouest and
his family. Chouest and his sons played basketball in their youth
and remain passionate about the game. Chouest has been a
season-ticket holder, sitting near courtside, since the Hornets
moved to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002.

Chouest said that while he is confident he will get a decent
return on his investment, he said he wanted to give something back
to the state that helped his company, Edison Chouest Offshore,
become one of the most successful businesses of its kind.

"I want to do something for our community, for our area, for
our city, for south Louisiana," Chouest said. "It's up to the
people who sort of live off the land to invest in it, where we have
something here that's going to be a magnet to attract other large
businesses and keep them here. I think any large city without
professional sports teams are extremely limited in attracting
industry and attracting and holding large companies.

"I know the Hornets organization will be successful in New
Orleans, and I can't wait until that first game and tip-off."

Edison Chouest Offshore's boats and barges ferry supplies and
people to offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms.

Shinn has been seeking investors to reduce a large debt from
buying out former minority partner Ray Wooldridge in January 2005.

According to recent surveys by Forbes magazine, the Hornets are
worth around $248 million, meaning a one-quarter share would run
around $62 million.

Shinn and Chouest declined to discuss the precise figure of
their deal, which Shinn said technically was still a "handshake
agreement" until a small amount of legal work is ironed out.

Shinn said he has kept NBA officials up to date on his
negotiations with Chouest and that the league gave the go-ahead for
the pair to make their new partnership public.

The Hornets are returning this fall to New Orleans for a full
41-game home schedule for the first time since being displaced to
Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The Hornets have
played only nine regular-season games in New Orleans since the
storm.

The Hornets' lease at the New Orleans Arena runs through 2012,
and Shinn has said he would like to extend it if fan support is
strong and if the state fulfills its promise to build the team a
new training headquarters.

The state's bond commission is expected later this year to
review a request from the state Legislature and governor's office
to supply up to $18 million to build a training facility that would
be attached to the arena.

The City of New Orleans already has about $6 million set aside
for the project as part of the agreement that brought the Hornets
to New Orleans.

During the 2004-05 season, the Hornets' were last in the NBA in
attendance, but also were among the worst teams in the league then,
winning only 18 games.

Next season, the Hornets are expected to be a playoff contender
and have new corporate sponsors, including Cadbury Schweppes
Americas Beverages and Capital One Financial Corp., which have made
several-year, multimillion dollar commitments in support of the
franchise's return to the rebuilding Gulf Coast.

Shinn said he also is continuing to negotiate with several other
Louisiana-based business owners who are interested in each buying
about 5 percent shares of the team. However, Shinn said he intended
to retain at least a 51 percent controlling stake in the team and
probably more than that.