Persona: George Shinn

New Orleans Hornets primary owner George Shinn says he’s nothing more than a marketing guy and salesman, and in the past year he’s proven his mettle as both. In the 2004-’05 season, the Hornets’ third in New Orleans, the team posted a miserable 18-64 record and finished among the NBA’s least watched teams. The next season, displaced to Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina, they improved to 38-44 and finished 11th in the league in attendance. Shinn promised the team would return to New Orleans but, when the temporary relocation stretched from one year to two, many thought the Hornets move away from the Crescent City was a slam-dunk. When Shinn announced he was returning to New Orleans for the 2007-’08 season, prognosticators questioned his sanity. ‘Why would he want to struggle to get footing in a smaller New Orleans market that he hadn’t been successful in previously?’ they asked. But Shinn ignored the snickers and went about rebuilding his team’s connection with its home city with the same tenacity that saw him rise from a school janitor to owner of the same school – and several others – on his way to writing five motivational books, becoming a highly sought-after public speaker and owner of an NBA franchise.
Age: 67 Born: Kannapolis, N.C. Family: Wife, Denise; children Chris, Susan and Chad, from a previous marriage. Resides: On St. Charles Avenue, across from Lafayette Square, next to Gallier Hall Education: Evans Business College, Concord, N.C. Favorite book: The Bible for inspiration, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill for motivation Favorite movie: My Fair Lady Favorite TV show: Crime/Cop shows Favorite food: Hamburgers. I love ’em. Favorite restaurant: C’mon, in this city that’s not a fair question. Favorite musician: George Jones Favorite vacation spot: The Bahamas Hobbies: Watching basketball and, when I get to, playing golf with my wife.
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, you were forced to relocate to Oklahoma City but you were adamant about returning to New Orleans. Why were you so dedicated to coming back? It’s something I thought and prayed about a lot. I leaned on my faith and thought it was our responsibility to help New Orleans resurrect itself. I felt we could be at the forefront of rebuilding and promoting New Orleans. People thought I was crazy for wanting to come back. I was criticized here and there but I had faith – call it blind faith if you want – that if I made a commitment to New Orleans I would be blessed.
Do you feel vindicated? Well, when we had our first game back and the [New Orleans] Arena was maybe half filled, I was embarrassed and the NBA was embarrassed. But I felt like things would turn in time – and they did. After that first game, I told our players to ignore the negatives, remain positive and to get involved in the community in some capacity. And they did. They got involved in each other’s events and got to know one another away from the court. Then things just seemed to fall into line for us. We got off to a good start, hosted a wonderful All-Star Game, had a great second half of the season – finishing with the best record in franchise history – and fell just short of reaching the conference finals. Outsiders have taken notice. Free agents want to come here now. But the best part is that the city really bought into the team. We’ve sold nearly 11,000 season tickets for this upcoming season, and we’re surely not embarrassed now.
What do you attribute that success to? Faith and an awful lot of hard work. We’ve been very diligent about getting involved across the region and trying to become part of the fabric of this community. I’m constantly trying to sell people on the Hornets. I’m a marketing guy and I’ve got to sell this team. I figure if we can continue to sell ourselves as a fun, family-friendly entertainment option, people will support us. Our games were ranked as the most entertaining in the league. Now, even though we had a good year last year, we lost money. But I think this will be the year that we turn that around.  
What was the impetus behind the new uniforms, logos and colors? We wanted to adopt an image that associated the team more closely with New Orleans. When we first moved here, people wanted us to change the name. They said the name belonged to Charlotte [N.C.]. I haven’t mentioned this before but I checked with the ownership in Utah [home to the Jazz since 1979], whose state insect is the hornet, to see if they would be interested in possibly swapping names. They weren’t. We checked into changing the name but it would have cost more than $1 million just to change the name, so we decided to work with what we could to associate the franchise with New Orleans. There were discussions about adopting the fleur-de-lis, but I didn’t want it to look like I was stealing Mr. Benson’s logo [New Orleans Saints’ primary insignia]. Then Adidas [the Hornets uniform and clothing manufacturer] came up with the “Fleur-de-Bee” logo and we just loved it. It was a perfect melding of the city and the team. They also designed the “NOLA Trumpet,” that ties in the city’s rich musical heritage and created a new color scheme with the “Creole Blue” shade. When I heard the name of that color, I just loved it and I thought the people of this area would appreciate it, too.
Has there been any progress on partnering with the state to build a new practice facility next to the New Orleans Arena? At this point, we’re working with the state on making improvements to the Alario Center complex and adding inducements to our contract. We’re putting the idea of a new facility on hold. Of course we’d like to have a facility right next to the arena, but right now we think this is the best way to keep us competitive in a small market.
What does it mean to have men like Byron Scott and Chris Paul leading your team? When I first got into sports, I thought the thing that made good players good was their athletic ability – how fast they can run and high they can jump. I was right. But over the years, I learned the thing that makes a good player great is character. Before we drafted Chris, I asked our GM, Jeff Bower, to conduct background checks on all of the players we might potentially draft. His first trip was to Winston-Salem N.C. [Wake Forest University] to see Chris Paul play. Jeff watched his every move – how he handled himself before and after the game, while he played and while he was on the bench, how he worked with his coaches and teammates. He was impressed all the way around. He met Chris and his parents after the game and was blown away. He called me right away and said Chris would be the new cornerstone of the franchise.
And where do you start with Byron? He’s been amazing through all of this. We didn’t have the best squad in his first season. Then we were bounced to Oklahoma City and back. But he’s built a strong team, stayed completely cool and relied on his faith and inner strength. I don’t know that you’ll meet a better man in all of sports.
What is it like to have your son involved in the management of the team [Chad Shinn is the team’s executive officer of the board]? He’s someone who I have complete trust in, and someone who I know will bring his all everyday. I’ve watched him grow up with the team and now he’s maturing into an excellent executive. I really like knowing he’s here. It’s wonderful to have him interested and involved.
What is your favorite thing about New Orleans? Oh, the people. When we first moved here, my wife was concerned that we might have trouble making close friends. But that definitely hasn’t been the case. We’ve met some of the most wonderful people we’ve ever encountered here. We just love it. It feels like home.