The New Orleans Hornets franchise has been on a roller coaster ride for the past twenty five years. Success as a team hasn’t come. Success off the court hasn’t come either. It’s been like a soap opera behind the scenes. David Stern and the NBA have done everything in their power to keep the franchise afloat. The team has finally started to lay down some roots in the Crescent City and it’s because of one person. The single most important person in the franchise’s future is Tom Benson.
The Charlotte Hornets began play in 1988. Owned by a local North Carolina entrepreneur George Shinn, the team stockpiled talent and slowly climbed up the standings. The team on the court was moving up, the support off the court was as well. Then Shinn showed his true colors. He was accused of rape, went into hiding and was generally looked at by the locals as someone whom they did not want to associate with.
The fans took that anger out on the team and so did the city. The fans stopped showing up and the city didn’t okay a new arena. Shinn threatened many times to leave Charlotte. The city didn’t want him and wanted the team sold to another local investor. He didn’t want to sell so he picked up and moved the franchise to New Orleans. The NBA was forced to okay the move and guarantee that the city would get their own non-Shinn franchise which they received only two years later in the Charlotte Bobcats.
New Orleans was excited to gain an NBA team but had to take Shinn as well. Shinn, who has never returned to Charlotte since he moved the team, stayed on as owner hoping people would look past his discretions. They didn’t, and eventually the NBA had to purchase the team in December 2010. The league began the search for a shining light to step in and save the franchise. Attendance continued to drop and the play on the court wasn’t good either. Rumors began to spread that the franchise would move again. New Orleans had already lost the Jazz to Utah many years earlier. Then a sports miracle occurred.
In April 2012, New Orleans sports billionaire Benson stepped him. He was the light the franchise needed. It was Benson who bankrolled the New Orleans Saints and their championship. It was Benson who owned and employed many in the city. Therefore it had to be only Benson who could save the day for the basketball franchise.
The team has had high draft picks, new colors, new uniforms and even a new name with the Pelicans taking flight next season but the single most important move the franchise and the NBA made was selling the team to Benson.
Benson doesn’t mean more wins, more championship and more trophies. His name brings fans, brings business and brings money. He will bring stability to the franchise and truly make into a hometown Bayou product. He is in it for the long haul. That is what the team needs. It might take a long time to get to the top in terms of standings but the franchise is already at the top in terms of an owner. Benson is the face of the franchise.
I am sure it won’t be long until we see Benson and his wife dancing under the umbrella in the New Orleans Arena. If the Saints can get it done so can the Pelicans.
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