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tk13
01-07-2005, 01:32 AM
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascitystar/sports/10584568.htm

HORNETS' NEST

Struggles of New Orleans team sting fans, but rumor of KC move called premature

By WRIGHT THOMPSON The Kansas City Star


NEW ORLEANS — With 20 seconds left on the clock, most of the fans started toward the exits. The hometown Hornets had fallen again Wednesday night, losing to the Bulls and staying ahead of pace to become the worst team in the history of the NBA.

The stands were depressingly barren. Forget empty seats. There were practically empty sections. No one is ready to call the experiment of New Orleans basketball a failure, but these are tough times.

“We're now traveling into the heart of darkness,” said Michael Perlstein, a reporter for the local newspaper who is working on an all-access book about the team and owner George Shinn.

The lack of success, both on the court and at the box office, has set the rumor mills churning. The latest has the team packing up and moving to Kansas City, where plans are under way to construct a state-of-the-art downtown arena.

On Wednesday, vice president of public relations Harold Kaufman knocked down the whispers.

“We love New Orleans,” he said. “Our owner is committed to New Orleans, and our plan is to be here for the long term.”

The NBA league office concurred. Deputy commissioner Russ Granik said any talk of moving the Hornets again after just three years is just that — talk.

“I think it would certainly be a little early to become overly concerned,” he said. “They've got a lease for a serious period of time in New Orleans, and I don't expect there will be any effort to relocate that team.”

Granik is aware of Kansas City's desire for an NBA team, and while he wasn't overly optimistic, he didn't nix the idea either.

“We'll see,” he said. “We have talked to the people in behalf of the arena, and we know what's happening there in Kansas City. I don't know what the chances are. It's obviously a long shot, but people are ready to take the risk.”

New Orleans is merely the latest team to be associated with Kansas City. It wasn't the first, and, as plans progress on the arena, it certainly won't be the last.

Kansas City Sports Commission president Kevin Gray said this week that he also expects to hear conjecture about Orlando and Sacramento being interested in moving to Kansas City.

Regardless of whether a move is in their future, the Hornets are struggling. For the second year in a row, the Hornets are next to last in attendance. A quick tour of the all-important luxury suites reveals too many unoccupied. In successful NBA cities, the only suites you can buy come in a wrapper.

Not even local rap impresarios, the Cash Money Millionaires, renewed their box from last year. When people who rap about putting 30-inch rims on private jets don't shell out money for the plushest NBA digs, there's a problem.

Team officials say they can — and will — have success in New Orleans. They point to plans to build a state-of-the-art practice facility next door, as well as community outreach and a long-term lease at the New Orleans Arena. The team's best players are hurt, and certainly the team will get better. With improvement comes fans.

That all might be true, but for now, it's more hard times for the Hornets, a team that's a pickup truck away from being a country song.

“There's a death watch on whether they can stay in New Orleans,” Perlstein said. “That's how it is when a team is going through a struggle. Sure, the vultures are going to circle.”

***

When the Hornets became an expansion franchise in 1988, business journals wrote long profiles about Shinn and his plan for burrowing deep into the Charlotte community. He made grassroots a priority, community involvement a concern, and at the center of the deal was a sweetheart lease of $1 per game with the city.

For years, his plan worked.

“It was one of the great love affairs in sports,” Perlstein said.

The team led the league in attendance. They sold out their coliseum for a solid decade. They even overtook the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls as the leading purveyor of official NBA merchandise, according to Perlstein. And the town adored the team, adopted the team as its own, another successful basketball tradition on Tobacco Row.

Then a series of misfortunes, tragedies and public-relations nightmares struck the team.

In 1998, Shinn was involved in a sexual harassment suit. He was proved not guilty, but the city, and nation, couldn't get enough of the bawdy, Starr-report-esque details. Though many of the accusations proved false, the public damage was done. Attendance began to decline, below capacity for the first time in 1998.

In 1999, Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth was accused of murder and later convicted of conspiracy in the fatal shooting of his pregnant girlfriend. Although a football player, his arrest tainted all professional athletes in the area. The average attendance at Hornets games fell to 6,000 below capacity.

The sadness over the 2000 death of guard Bobby Phills in a car wreck, which happened while he was racing a teammate, left the team's remaining supporters de-energized. The crowds dwindled to 15,000 that year, and down to 11,000 in 2001.

In just four years, the average attendance had been cut in half. Shinn's attempts at convincing the city to built him a new arena failed dramatically, and he began looking for a new city. His old one bid good riddance.

“He was hated in Charlotte,” Perlstein said. “Reviled is the word I heard used.”

***

New Orleans welcomed Shinn with open arms, constructing a similarly sweet lease agreement.

Though he was only paying a dollar in Charlotte, his new town gave him an even better deal: free.

That's right. The Hornets use New Orleans Arena rent-free. Plus, they get nearly half of the concessions and all of the parking. They get all the money from luxury seating, and almost every other revenue source you could imagine. That's not including their healthy tax break.

Before allowing the team to move, the NBA did its own rigorous vetting of the city, making sure the infrastructure was in place to support a franchise.

“I think we tried as hard as we could,” Granik said. “We don't purport to be perfect analysts, and I think we did everything we could to look at it.”

The first year, everything was new and exciting. But, year two, now that was a different story. Competing with a town renowned for entertainment, the Hornets fell to next to last in attendance.

Here's why: taking a family of four to a game, according to the Team Marketing Report, costs $235.39. That covers the tickets, programs, parking, four small sodas, two small beers and four hot dogs.

Say someone wanted to take their family out to dinner instead. At Galatoire's, one of the finest old-line New Orleans restaurants where locals have been known to hire homeless people to stand in line for them, they could feed the same family Oysters Rockefeller and pompano amandine, both specialties of the house.

With tip, they'd still have almost $100 left over, or, enough for 15 hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's.

So you can see the team's problem.

This season isn't any better. Injuries have left the roster loaded with no-names. In years past, each player had a snippet of music that would play when he scored. Now, with so many roster moves, that practice has been abandoned. Only a few players have their signature sounds.

“This is a league of superstars,” said rookie and Kansas City native Matt Freije, “and when all your superstars are injured, it makes it tough.”

The team is still next to last in attendance, and, as each loss adds to an already abysmal 2-28 record, an unwanted goal is in sight. In 1972-73, the Philadelphia 76ers set the record for the worst season mark at 9-73. The Hornets are on pace to finish even worse, and everyone in the organization is doing the math daily.

“This is playing mind tricks on everybody,” Perlstein said.

***

An experiment was in order before leaving the arena Wednesday night. Four groups of fans were approached randomly and asked a single question: Why would you come see a two-win team play basketball?

One man was there because he was a family friend of Bulls guard Chris Duhon, a New Orleans native. Another was there because the boss gave him company tickets. Up in the rafters, three LSU med students were there to see a friend sing the national anthem.

“If the Hornets would put a good team on the floor,” one of the fans said, “a bunch more people would watch them.”

Only one of the four was a true Hornets fan. Brian Creel from New Orleans thinks the team will get better once it is at full strength. He doesn't want to see them leave.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Not at all. We love ‘em down here. We love having basketball back in the city. This city is primarily a football city, but the Hornets are growing on us.”

There's something else, another reason why the town will put up with a loser longer than most. Creel smiled.

“I'm also a Saints season-ticket holder,” he said, “so I know about pain.”

All this moving talk, as Granik said, is no doubt premature. In the locker room on Wednesday, the person most likely to have heard something hadn't. Freije looked shocked when told of the rumor.

“That's hilarious,” he said.

Later, after thinking about playing in front of Mom and Dad, he got a touch excited. Hmm, the Kansas City Hornets?

“That'd be awesome,” he said.

--------

http://www.kansascity.com/images/kansascity/kansascitystar/news/hornet_hobo010704.gc.jpg

I just had to include this logo...:D

Digital Takawira
01-07-2005, 02:11 AM
i was just thinking a few days ago that it would be funny if the hornets moved again to kc when the new arena is done.

Digital Takawira
01-07-2005, 02:16 AM
hell, we already have larry johnson. now all we need to do is sign muggsy bogues as our secondary coach, and alonzo mourning at linebacker.

Kraut
01-07-2005, 02:19 AM
hell, we already have larry johnson. now all we need to do is sign muggsy bogues as our secondary coach, and alonzo mourning at linebacker.
ROFL

Spicy McHaggis
01-07-2005, 02:26 AM
I went to a Hornets game when I visited New Orleans. It was pretty dead in there and I don't think there will be a sudden rush of support for the team in the near future.

elvomito
01-07-2005, 02:31 AM
i'd like to see the kings back

ROYC75
01-07-2005, 06:23 AM
i'd like to see the kings back


ditto ...... :clap:

Should have never left.

Ultra Peanut
01-07-2005, 07:12 AM
Would you really want them?

Cochise
01-07-2005, 07:54 AM
As much as I think the NBA blows, I'm sure if they brought a team to town I would be a fan.

What's it usually cost to get into an NBA game, anyway?

Saulbadguy
01-07-2005, 07:57 AM
As much as I think the NBA blows, I'm sure if they brought a team to town I would be a fan.

What's it usually cost to get into an NBA game, anyway?
I'm sure if it was the Hornets, it would cost more than it was worth. I'd probably go to a few games though. If I lived in KC I would probably go to quite a few games.

Cochise
01-07-2005, 08:01 AM
I'm sure if it was the Hornets, it would cost more than it was worth. I'd probably go to a few games though. If I lived in KC I would probably go to quite a few games.

When was the last time any of my teams were championship caliber?

That guy talking about being a Saints season ticket holder is not as tortured as he imagines. They just got a title out of LSU anyway. I haven't had anything in my life but the Royals and I was too young to even know about it.

ChiTown
01-07-2005, 08:05 AM
Call me a naysayer, but I just don't see KC as a NBA town. It would have to get a TON of corporate support in order for this to ever work. Not to mention, KC wouldn't put up with another NBA loser like the Kings for too long. It's just not a town that's passionate about the NBA.

Dr. Facebook Fever
01-07-2005, 08:10 AM
i'd like to see the kings back
That'd be a trip.

Why are they thinking of leaving Sacremento though?

Dr. Facebook Fever
01-07-2005, 08:11 AM
Call me a naysayer, but I just don't see KC as a NBA town. It would have to get a TON of corporate support in order for this to ever work. Not to mention, KC wouldn't put up with another NBA loser like the Kings for too long. It's just not a town that's passionate about the NBA.
If the team is good the city will support them. Huge "if."

ChiTown
01-07-2005, 08:13 AM
I haven't had anything in my life but the Royals and I was too young to even know about it.

I was in Right Field GA for Game 7 in 1985. God bless my Uncle (who was a KCMO Police Captain and head of traffic for the KC Royals) for getting me those tickets.

I'd love to spend the night celebrating a Chiefs SB victory down in Westport like we did after the Royals won Game 7.

(singing)
Oh, what a night(doot, doot, doot, doot doot doot).......early October back in '85, Sabes shut down the Cards in a complete 9, sweet surrender, what a night......

John_Wayne
01-07-2005, 09:39 AM
I'd take an NBA team, but would prefer NHL.