Though the Hornets two-year exile to Oklahoma City was necessary, we’re glad that we’ll no longer see the letters “NOK” applied to the team. The letters were shorthand for the two cites in the Hornets’ post-Katrina predicament; one in which the team played, the other that the team belonged to.
We are glad to see the Hornets back. If there’s any leveraging in the laws of nature, the franchise is due several years of stability after experiencing a half-decade of upheaval that included a move and an evacuation.
We all know that the franchise faces survival issues in this city but we believe it can be done. Here are some reasons why:
George Shinn. Because the Hornets have been away for two years, New Orleanians still haven’t had a chance to know the team’s owner. When they do, they should like what they see. Shinn has owned the franchise from its beginnings in Charlotte. He isn’t an absentee owner. When Shinn goes to work in the morning his job is to run his team.
Shinn’s announcement that he was selling a 25 percent share of the team to a local investor, Galliano ship builder Gary Chouest, directed much of the attention to his new partner. An equally important story that evening was Shinn’s remarks about New Orleans. He told the gathering that he knew the recovering city faced challenges but that he believed in it and he was committed to making his franchise prosper here. During the last decade, he has moved from Charlotte to New Orleans to Oklahoma City and back to New Orleans. “I don’t want to move again,” he told the crowd. There seems to be a spiritual inner-self to Shinn that makes him willing to embrace the challenging situation he’s been handed and to make the best of it. As long as he believes, New Orleanians should, too.
David Stern. If there’s one city that the NBA Commissioner has every reason to dislike, it’s New Orleans. It was he who squashed the deal several years ago when there was a shaky attempt to move the Minnesota Timberwolves to this city. Stern also wasn’t pleased with the Hornets franchise leaving Charlotte or with inflated season ticket sales figures presented by a former Hornets partner. Yet since Katrina, Stern has been thoroughly benevolent to the city, steadily insisting that the franchise would return and delivering the NBA All-Star game to us. True the team was bound by lease agreements and it would’ve looked bad to kick a city while it was down but Stern has taken the extra step. He understands the importance that a franchise can have in rebuilding a city and how weakened New Orleans would look if we lost it. His support has been important to the recovery.
Gary Chouest. His explanation for buying into the franchise was simple: He wanted to help the city. Sure there’s glamour in being a team owner but there are also better ways to invest money. Chouest’s presence adds stability to the franchise and opens the way to key business contacts. Having a local guy in the boardroom is a good development, especially one adept at keeping things afloat.
Doug Thornton. As a long time sports activist, Thornton, who was a founder of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, has perhaps the best sports business mind in the city. In his capacity as Regional General Manager of SMG, the management company that oversees the Superdome and the Arena, Thornton is an able person to handle the business and governmental complexities of sports facilities. He knows where the levers of power are and how to get them pulled. Most of all, he’s on the city’s side.
The team. By all accounts this year’s team should be very good and easily a playoff contender. Since the squad has been away for two years, New Orleanians are going to have to re-learn the names and numbers. As the Hornets keep winning, however – and we suspect they will – that should come easy.
New Orleans. Whenever someone says that New Orleans is really a “football town” they need to be reminded that practically every continental American city is a football town. That doesn’t mean that there cannot be a passion for the NBA, whose season extends well past the football months and which has the advantage of being an indoor sport played during the winter.
More than a football town, New Orleans is a passionate town and with the right moves it can be passionate about the Hornets.