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Hornets on Way to New Orleans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Goodbye, Billy Graham Parkway. Hello, Bourbon Street.

As expected, the NBA on Friday approved the Hornets’ move from Charlotte, N.C., to New Orleans. The vans will be loaded just as soon as the team is eliminated from the playoffs. The Hornets, who trail the New Jersey Nets, 2-1, in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, will call the New Orleans Arena home beginning next season.

After 16 years of franchise stability, the Hornets are the second NBA team to move. The Grizzlies moved from Vancouver, Canada, to Memphis, Tenn., last year. Both teams cited declining attendance and soaring financial losses as their reasons for pulling up stakes.

George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge, the Hornets’ co-owners, claimed losses of $15 million last season and perhaps as much as $20 million this season.

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Efforts to build a new arena--critical to the team’s survival in Charlotte, according to Shinn and Wooldridge--failed when a referendum was voted down last year. The Hornets’ average attendance was 11,286, worst in the league this season, at the 19,925-seat Charlotte Coliseum.

Even Shinn and Wooldridge stopped going to games.

The Hornets applied to the league for relocation in January, settling on New Orleans after 55 luxury suites and 8,121 season tickets had been sold by March 15. A seven-member NBA ownership committee approved the move 10 days ago.

New Orleans was the first home of the Jazz, which played there from 1974-79 before moving to Salt Lake City. The Jazz played first at the Municipal Auditorium, then in the Superdome, an indoor stadium designed for the NFL’s Saints. The Hornets will play in a new 18,000-seat arena adjacent to the Superdome.

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“As happy as I am on one hand, I am sad on the other,” Shinn said at a ceremony in New Orleans hours after the vote was announced. “I’ll only mention this one time: As you all know, I grew up in North Carolina.”

The Hornets’ ownership also will cut ties with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting, which will stay in the city under WNBA management.

The tally of Friday’s vote of representatives from each of the league’s 29 teams was not announced, but the Associated Press reported that it was 28-1, with only the Grizzlies going against the Hornets’ move.

In a prepared statement, NBA Commissioner David Stern said: “The fans, the civic leaders and the business community and the state of Louisiana have demonstrated their overwhelming interest in having an NBA team. Based on the level of commitment and excitement, I am confident that the foundation has been set for a successful Hornets franchise in New Orleans.”

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In most respects, the Hornets were a model expansion franchise for most of their 14 years in Charlotte. The community, renowned for its support of college basketball, embraced the team in the first few seasons. Tickets were difficult to come by and the Hornets led the NBA in attendance.

More recently, however, Shinn and Wooldridge battled with civic and business leaders about financing and building a new arena with plenty of luxury suites. The franchise also could not retain its top players, among them favorites such as Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning and was stunned by the death of guard Bobby Phills in an auto accident two years ago.

This season, with former UCLA guard Baron Davis leading them, the Hornets have been a success on the court. They ousted the Orlando Magic in the opening round of the playoffs and defeated the Nets Thursday in Game 3 of their series before only 11,363 fans.

Game 4 will be played Sunday at Charlotte. The team is offering two tickets for the price of one $32 seat in an attempt to bolster a Mother’s Day crowd.

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“Just to see it fall off the end of the earth, it’s just disheartening,” Hornet Coach Paul Silas told reporters in Charlotte. “It really leaves you empty.”

Silas was not looking forward to moving, to putting his home up for sale, but seemed resigned.

“It’s like a kid when his parents go through a divorce,” he said of his frustration leading up to Friday’s formal announcement. “It affects him but, really, he has nothing to do with it. That’s kind of the way this was. All the questions were directed at us. Our owners weren’t saying a lot. We kind of got stuck with it. We’ve done what we’re supposed to do. We won games.”

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*--* Moving On The Charlotte Hornets became the 20th NBA franchise to relocate since 1950: Year Old Team New Team 1951 Tri-Cities Blackhawks Milwaukee Hawks 1955 Milwaukee Hawks St. Louis 1957 Rochester Royals Cincinnati 1958 Fort Wayne Pistons Detroit 1960 Minneapolis Lakers Los Angeles 1962 Philadelphia Warriors San Francisco 1963 Chicago Zephyrs Baltimore Bullets 1963 Syracuse Nationals Philadelphia 76ers 1968 St. Louis Hawks Atlanta 1971 San Diego Rockets Houston 1971 San Francisco Warriors Oakland 1972 Cincinnati Royals Kansas City/ Omaha Kings 1973 Baltimore Bullets Washington 1977 New York Nets New Jersey 1978 Buffalo Braves San Diego Clippers 1979 New Orleans Jazz Utah 1984 San Diego Clippers Los Angeles 1985 Kansas City Kings Sacramento 2001 Vancouver Grizzlies Memphis 2002 Charlotte Hornets New Orleans

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