Originally created 11/05/02

Belkin acting as front-runner in bid for Charlotte franchise



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A potential ownership group that includes Larry Bird is operating under the assumption the NBA will award it the rights to a new Charlotte franchise.

But Boston-area businessman Steve Belkin said Monday that the league has not yet approved his application.

"We've heard rumors that we are the front-runners, but it's not true that we have already been selected," Belkin said. "We're planning on us getting the franchise because we need to get plans on the way.

"We believe our application is going to be a success, but we haven't been given any indication of that. We do, however, think there's a high probability."

Bird would be the general manager if Belkin's group wins the franchise.

One of the other known groups pursuing an expansion team includes former Black Entertainment Television owner Robert Johnson. Miami Heat minority owner Bob Sturges is part of a third group.

The New York Daily News, citing ownership sources, reported Sunday that Belkin's group has already been approved.

"That's not true," Belkin said. "I believe the NBA is treating everybody equally and fairly, and they are going to decide by the end of the year. We are acting as if we are going to be selected, but it has not happened yet."

NBA owners have already approved an agreement with Charlotte to build an arena if the city is awarded an expansion team to replace the Hornets, who left during the off-season for New Orleans.

City council members are expected to vote on the arena agreement Nov. 11.

Under terms of the deal, the NBA would have to choose owners and award the franchise by Jan. 12, when the city and league are scheduled to approve a final contract.

The owners chosen by the NBA would have to abide by the terms negotiated by the league, although they would be involved in working out some specifics that remain to be decided.

The new team would not begin play until 2004-05, but Belkin said Bird is already moving forward.

"Larry is very excited. He's out talking to scouts already because it looks like this is going to be decided in the next 45 days," Belkin said.