CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The candidates pursuing an NBA expansion team for Charlotte narrowed to two Wednesday after Miami Heat co-owner Bob Sturges withdrew from consideration.
Sturges was thought to be third on the list of potential ownership candidates, said Steve Belkin, a Boston-based businessman who is trying, along with a group that includes Larry Bird, to land a franchise.
"Bob called me this morning and told me he was going to pull out and wished us good luck," Belkin said Wednesday. "I felt he was probably in third place, and I kind of expected he would pull out at some point."
Belkin said Sturges' investment group "was working on other opportunities."
The other known ownership candidate is Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Belkin and Johnson are the only two applicants for ownership at this time. The NBA has set Friday as the deadline to file applications to own the Charlotte franchise.
Sturges, the minority owner of the Heat, told The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday that both Belkin and Johnson would make good owners, but that he expected Belkin to get the franchise.
"If I were a betting man, I'd give a slight edge to Belkin because of the depth of experience in the NBA around him," Sturges said.
Aside from Bird, the Hall of Famer would run the new team, Belkin's group includes former Boston Celtics general manager Jan Volk. M.L. Carr, a former Celtics player and coach, would work in community relations. He already spent the summer running the WNBA's Charlotte Sting, a job that allowed him to be in the city drumming up support for the NBA effort.
Plagued by lagging attendance and the absence of an arena deal, the Charlotte Hornets left for New Orleans, which used to be home to the Jazz before that franchise moved to Salt Lake City.
Charlotte's city council is scheduled to vote on the arena deal Monday. The contract calls for the NBA to pick owners and award the franchise by Jan. 12.
"This is clearly viable. I have no doubt the NBA in Charlotte will definitely be successful again," Sturges said.
Sturges said he expects the NBA will charge an expansion fee of at least $300 million. "When you consider past sales of NBA teams (such as) the Celtics at $360 million, it seems logical that Charlotte would fit in around $300 million."