New Orleans Faces Competiton
Louisville, Kansas City among the cities interested in the Hornets.
OTHER POTENTIAL NBA DESTINATIONS
There’s still other cities beyond Louisville and Kansas City which have been mentioned as potential NBA spots. Las Vegas is always brought up, but there are a number of factors working against it. The Thomas & Mack Center has a suitable capacity — 18,776 for basketball games — but is outdated in terms of luxury suites and other amenities considered standard for a modern NBA arena. That’s not to mention Commissioner Stern’s hesitation at placing a franchise in a city which is so closely linked to gambling. Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman’s office and Nevada governor Jim Gibbons’ office didn’t reply to multiple e-mail and phone requests to speak for this story.
Chicago has been cited as a potential landing spot, as its seen as a big enough city and media market to house a second NBA squad. Chicago mayor Richard Daley’s office declined comment for this story.
Any talk of an new NBA city has to include Seattle. The city was home to the Supersonics from 1968-2008. Seattle mayor Mike McGinn’s office responded to a question of the city’s interest in the NBA with an e-mail message stating the office hasn’t been in touch with the League.
“Our office has not been approached by anyone actively working to finance the return of the NBA to Seattle,” wrote Aaron Pickus, an assistant communications director in Mayor McGinn’s office.
The Sonics left Seattle for Oklahoma City in 2008 after Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sold the team in 2006 to a group including Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. That came after Schultz unsuccessfully tried to get the state of Washington to fund improvements to Key Arena. The arena still hasn’t been renovated to NBA standards, but Pickus stated the city is open to ideas.
“We have reviewed what occurred when the Sonics left Seattle and encourage any private interests working to bring basketball back to Seattle to get in touch with our office to have that conversation,” Pickus wrote.
Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer sold $1.3 billion worth of his shares in the Seattle-based company, and it’s been speculated that Ballmer has his eye on building a new arena to bring back an NBA team. There hasn’t been any confirmation of his interest, so it will remain speculation — and Seattle will remain without a realistic possibility of securing an NBA franchise.
Then there’s Anaheim. The California city, located 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, has long been a potential NBA locale. The Clippers were thought to possibly move there in the late ’90s, but they opted to join the Lakers as Staples Center tenants when the arena opened in 1999. Still, that hasn’t deterred Anaheim.
“The city has always had that interest [of getting an NBA team],” said Ruth Ruiz, a spokeswoman at Public Information Office for the City of Anaheim. “When the Honda Center was built, it was built for two professional teams.”
The Honda Center, which opened in 1993 to serve the then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks of the NHL, can house 17,608 for basketball games. Preseason Lakers and Clippers games are frequently played there, and there is a strong sense from those who work at Honda Center that it can become a permanent home, despite the presence of two other NBA franchises in L.A.
“There’s definitely interest from our venue to acquire an NBA team,” said a Honda Center representative, who requested not to be named in this story. “It was originally designed to host two professional teams. There would be some improvements in construction that would have to be done. That would be negotiated with the team that does come in.”
Among the improvements that would have to be made are new locker rooms and a fitness facility. A fitness facility already exists for the Ducks and their NHL opponents, but another would have to be built to properly accommodate athletes from two separate professional sports.
The Honda Center hasn’t performed any studies to test the economic viability of a third team in the Greater Los Angeles market, and the representative said there haven’t been any discussions with the NBA regarding a franchise moving there.
Even with all this interest from other cities, it’s not assured that Stern will approve the Hornets moving from New Orleans.
“Stern seems to not want to kick New Orleans when it’s down, so to speak,” said Klayman, the Reuters sports business reporter. “I think he’s going to give the region every opportunity to make the team work there.”
Vrooman, the Vanderbilt economic professor, has an idea of what the NBA should do with the Hornets.
“It should conduct a search for a legitimate local Gulf Coast owner who is not adversely affected by the economic downturn,” Vrooman wrote. “They should then sell the club for zero profit so as to give the new ownership a fighting financial chance to make a go in a city that has lost almost all of its vitally important corporate base.”
He also left a lasting message on what he thinks tops the NBA’s wish list. “Never underestimate the NBA, MLB, NHL or especially the NFL,” Vrooman wrote. “Their single objective is to make a profit, not to maximize fan welfare.”
If the NBA determines profiting from its investment in the Hornets is in their best interest, then the League’s time in New Orleans certainly might be up. Of course, the League might use other cities’ interest as leverage in Louisiana and New Orleans stepping up to fund a new arena. More might be learned of the Hornets’ future if and when the international investors Miller found for Louisville are revealed. Until then, the New Orleans Hornets’ future destination is up for grabs.