Really, it all started so innocently.
And now look at it . . . bloated, embarrassing, agonizing, exhausting, frustrating, wasting, parasitic, like a cross between Sean May and Ryan Leaf that you let sleep on your couch after his girl blackened his eye, stole his wallet, and left the bar with a thirteen year old, and now he just won’t leave, eats your favorite food and buys lime sherbet to replace it, constantly hums Captain and Tennile songs, doing the hummy falsetto thing for Tennile’s parts, and completes the stages on your RPG’s after you do all the leveling. You know what I’m saying?
Fittingly, news about the Hornets with seismic potential was but a puffed-up footnote to a story about the Knicks in the morning of April 6, 2010.
Don’t put any stock in Avery Johnson interviewing for the Nets job unless he’s the sole candidate under consideration. At least, that was his haughty stance when the 76ers approached agent Tony Dutt about his client before (now outgoing) Eddie Jordan was hired. Should the Shinn family sell its majority share of the Hornets, a prospect gaining thrust, sources say Johnson is almost guaranteed to be first choice to succeed Jeff Bower, who figures also to be out as general manager.
Nearly immediately, it was picked up, amplified, reinforced, and fed back upon itself like a Hendrix lick on 11. Speculation was mixed, but it was rampant.
In short order, the natural move was revealed to be the move under consideration. With original and long-time Hornets owner George Shinn recovered from a bout with cancer and facing financial equivalent of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, he was negotiating a sale to then sole minority owner and Louisiana billionaire and native Gary Chouest.
As the days passed, nothing happened. Stuff happened, I’m sure, but nothing happened. There was no news whatsoever.
Then, news broke that nothing happened.
The stated reason was an inability to come to terms on a sale price, but rumors supplemented this. One family of rumors spoke to details of this disagreement, most of which spoke to the handling some of the team’s debt, particularly debt that could be interpreted as Shinn’s personal debt. On the other side of the ledger, the value of the Hornets itself was in question not only because of its inability to turn a profit, but because a lockout more than a year away was looming large because NBA teams losing money was such a pervasive issue.
The second family drew connections from the Macondo blowout to uncertainty in Chouest’s finances or focus. The potential influence of the resulting moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on his personal wealth or banks’ ability to give nine-figure loans to him to purchase an asset that loses money was certainly reasonable, especially to people who could smell the oil in the Gulf on the morning commute in the city. Also, no one could blame Chouest if he needed to focus on his lucrative family business which employed thousands of his neighbors.
The final group of rumors squarely targeted Chouest himself, particularly his desire to own the team. Though he increased his in stake in the team from 25% to 35% over the course of his stint as minority owner, his quiet demeanor, at least in the media, added fuel to the idea that he wanted at least one minority partner on his ownership team. Reports of looking for additional investors, including out-of-state investors, for financial purposes, not just to be a face, turned the fuel to trinitrotoluene.
Less than two weeks later, the sale to Chouest was announced unofficially.
An agreement between minority owner Gary Chouest and long-time New Orleans Hornets’ majority owner George Shinn has been reached, league sources said Monday morning, and an annoucement (sic) regarding transfer of the team’s ownership to Chouest will take place this week, possibly Thursday afternoon.
Apparently, it’s still Wednesday, because that announcement never came.
This line from that same story captured how we all felt at the time
Talks have dragged on for three weeks or more while the two sides haggled over the value of the franchise.
Oh, how much we have learned. “In two weeks” has the `little black dress’ of answers regarding ownership ever since. I’d love to see an “In two weeks” contest at some Hornets247 event like the “Stella” contest at the Tennessee Williams Festival.
Days turned to weeks turned months.
In November, I asked Dell Demps about the subject, and was told it was in the “dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s” phase. He also said the team needed Peja that season. He may have been right about that, but we traded him anyway, so there you go.
About two weeks later, the NBA announced that it would purchase the team from Shinn and Chouest. Two weeks after that, the deal was done.
In the months that followed, both good and bad happened for the team, but uncertainty and instability took root. The rolling attendance benchmarks that were in effect since 2007 were brought back into public consciousness, which was bad. Nearly simultaneously Hornets games were broadcast (again) on Charter, the northshore cable network, allowing more fans to see the games. This was likely not serendipity. The writing was on the wall. This was no time for games. This team needed to be saved or it was going to leave the region, and the NBA would be gone for good.
The attendance benchmarks were met thanks to efforts from fans and local businesses, including the newly formed Hornets Business Council.
Shortly after, the push for single tickets ended, and the massive “I’m In” campaign was launched. This campaign, partially paid for by the State of Louisiana, sought to drive the season ticket sales to 10,000, a mark that shows that a franchise is well-supported. This was supposed to attract an owner.
The campaign worked, even during the lockout. The season ticket goal was surpassed, and the campaign continues to this day as “I’m In for Good,” broadcasting a commitment of team to this region. There is more to say about this, but not here. The tickets materialized, but no owner has materialized.
Potential owners have materialized, as has a lease for them to sign.
But no owner.
Two years without a leader. Two years without a rudder. Two years without any way to keep up with the Cubans. Two years of the team’s on-the-court assets diminishing because we can not offer stability to our high-priced union labor.
Our All-Stars are now formerly our All-Stars. Our GM is low-balled by other GM’s, and the media treats him like he has no power, ignoring the good moves he’s made. Our Coach gets next to no recognition for juggling these jagged shards of a roster night in and night out.
I get asked pretty often, “When is someone going to buy this team?”
Dudes, I don’t know. I’ve asked. I’ve listened. I’ve thought.
Joe has done the same.
You know what we know.
Here’s what I do know: We don’t have to worry about a three year anniversary. If this deal isn’t done, and I mean done-done, by July 1, 2012, it’s over. The new lease amendment vanishes like some legal version of a flux-capacitorized DeLorean. That, my friends, is the one and only day that matters.
There are other dates that have been mentioned in other posts, but none are more meaningful that July 1, 2012. If you wake up that day without an owner for this team unless something chances, it’s over.
In the meantime, distract yourself as best as possible, but don’t be fooled by the `little black dresses’. “In two weeks” will be right exactly once: two weeks before the sale. Enjoy the games, the lottery, the playoffs, whatever. We’ll have great stuff for you here, too.
The drama is going to end in less than 100 days one way or the other, and while I think the ending will be happy, and all signs point to this, it may be the other. In that case, we are really going to learn what two years of pain feels like, if we are lucky. If not, it may be just one year of pain. Or zero.
There are worse things than two years of this, aren’t there?
We are going to look back at this time, I think, as one of the most interesting time in Hornets history, and perhaps the most important. Perhaps. When we are ordinary, the ridicule, the superior attitude, and the ignorance will approach the norm. We will fade into obscurity aside from the occasional the patronizing hat-tips on ESPN. That will be a nice treat.
Of course, the lesson of the NBA in New Orleans is that the owner is important, especially if we factor in Battistone moving the Jazz from New Orleans to Utah. If it takes two-plus years to get the right owner, an owner that will commit to the fans and the city, and owner that is competitive, and an owner that will turn this franchise in to a jewel of the NBA, then it will all be worth it. This can’t be done overnight. I thought it could be done in under two years, but what do I know?
You took the tme, now just get it right so I can relax.
I’ll buy you a Hubig’s.
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
— “The Waiting”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers