Last August, just before the hasty departure to avoid Katrina, on our to-do list was to write the editorial for this magazine’s October 2005 issue. The subject was to be the New Orleans Hornets, who were preparing to begin their fourth season in New Orleans. To date, the Hornets brief time here had been bumpy. In the previous season the team lost 16 games before their first win, and finished at the bottom of the league with an 18-64 record. That was reflected in the attendance, but to be fair to New Orleans, the Knicks would not have filled Madison Square Garden with that record. A year earlier the Hornets had made the play-offs, though there was bad blood between Coach Tim Floyd and moody star Barron Davis. The league scheduled the first home play-off game on a Saturday afternoon during Jazz Fest, so the city was criticized for not providing a sellout, though it did for the other play-off games.
As we prepared to write about the upcoming season, things looked better. Venomous Barron Davis was gone. There were new players, a new attitude. We were ecstatic about the franchise and were proud to have it here. This – we hoped – would be the breakout year, when the city and the team would fall in love with each other.
That might have happened. Last year’s Hornets proved to be an exciting team powered by Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, but by then New Orleans was preoccupied with crawling out of the muck.
We understand why the team had to play most of its home games in another city last season, as it is doing this year, but seeing the words “Oklahoma City” attached to the team’s name is like watching your girlfriend date another man.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has acted appropriately and has been sensitive to New Orleans. He has promised that the team will be back here next season and has promised an all-star game. The franchise also has a generous but rigid lease arrangement with the state – but still … At some point a wounded city will have to prove its ability to support an NBA franchise. A winning team would make that much easier.
Oklahoma City has embraced the NBA, so much so that a local tycoon who wanted to buy the Hornets franchise has bought the Seattle Supersonics instead. The Seattle team suffers from failing attendance and a bad lease arrangement. Speculation has it that the Supersonics might be the team to eventually settle in Oklahoma instead of the Hornets. That suits us just fine – the name “Oklahoma Supersonics” has a nice ring to it, like the wind coming sweepin’ down the plains.
We empathize with Hornets owner George Shinn. After an unhappy experience in Charlotte, he hoped to find happiness, and stability in New Orleans. That can still happen – beginning next season.
We still believe. As a city we need to give him reason to believe too.