League will buy Hornets

David Stern (second from left): NBA chief said the deal will give New Orleans its best shot at keeping the team.

NEW ORLEANS --- The NBA's decision to buy the New Orleans Hornets gives Louisiana the best opportunity to hold onto the franchise that moved there in 2002, commissioner David Stern said Monday.


Stern confirmed that the league is proceeding with a plan to buy the club from majority owner George Shinn and minority partner Gary Chouest, making the Hornets the first NBA-owned team.

Shinn has been trying since spring to sell the team to Chouest, but those negotiations had stalled, and Stern said Shinn's urgency to sell his shares was increasing because he was accumulating debt at a rate he could not sustain.

If the NBA had done nothing, Stern said, Shinn might have been inclined to take the next good offer he got, even if it came from a buyer that planned to move the team.

The NBA has "the luxury of time to make these decisions," Stern said. "So frankly, that was one of the best reasons for us to step forward ... that there didn't have to be made a long-term decision on a very short framework with certain pressures. And we think we've eliminated the pressure."

Stern made it clear that Louisiana politicians should be prepared to revisit the Hornets' lease of the state-owned New Orleans Arena and the level of taxpayer-funded inducements the club could receive in the future.

Stern made an oblique reference to the NFL's New Orleans Saints, who since 2001 have negotiated inducements worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A recent deal even involved Saints owner Tom Benson buying a downtown high-rise with a guarantee that state agencies would lease office space at an above-market rate.

"Whether you call it a lease or some additional arrangements that I think the state is probably familiar with ... I think that the state will be a party along with the team and possibly the city to a broader deal," Stern said. "It's a fair issue, and the governor knows we're coming."

Louisiana, like many states, is dealing with enormous budget cuts. Gov. Bobby Jindal pledged to work with the NBA, but only within the state's limits.

The sale still must be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors, which likely will vote on the matter next week. Stern said he expects approval by an "overwhelming" majority.



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