Originally created 06/28/02

Newspaper: NBA ready to talk with Charlotte about return



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The National Basketball Association is so serious about putting an expansion team to Charlotte that league officials will begin arena negotiations with the city next month, on behalf of potential owners, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Charlotte Observer reported NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik met with potential Charlotte owner Steve Belkin last week and is expected to have similar meetings with Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Bob Sturges, a minority partner in the Miami Heat.

All three men have indicated interest in a new Charlotte expansion team.

The Charlotte Hornets were given permission by the NBA to relocate to New Orleans.

Belkin recently said there was at least a 60 percent chance of an expansion team replacing the Hornets. Granik said nothing to diminish that optimism.

"I wouldn't put a percentage on it, but we're serious about it because it's going to take a lot of time and effort from people here," Granik said before Wednesday night's NBA draft in New York. "This is not something we're going to do just to say we tried."

Granik said Charlotte is the only city they plan to consider.

"We're not in a mode where we have any burning desire to expand," he said. "This is just about a sense that Charlotte demonstrated over most of the Hornets' history that it's a market that very strongly supports the NBA."

He also said the key issue is not just whether Charlotte intends to build a new NBA arena, but whether an expansion team can succeed financially.

"Whether it's workable depends on what kind of arena arrangement (Charlotte offers)," he said. "How it will be financed and who will manage it and where will the revenue streams go? The answer to those questions will determine whether a group can pay the price that other owners feel is fair."

Despite Larry Bird's presence in the Belkin group, Granik said ownership is still a wide-open race.

"There's nobody who has any major advantage with the league," he said. "Any group with the wherewithal to do this will be treated in the same way."