New Orleans NBA commissioner David Stern said there was no question about the Hornets' full-time return to New Orleans in the short term, but that long-term concerns about the city's recovery and corporate support for pro basketball need to be resolved sooner than later.
"We have to do it shortly upon the return," Stern said during a visit Sunday night for the Hornets' home opener against the Houston Rockets. "We have to lock it all in, otherwise it becomes a lame duck, and that's really bad for us, but it's even worse for New Orleans."
Sunday night's game was the first of six the Hornets will play in New Orleans this season. The rest, including any playoff home games, will be played in Oklahoma City as part of a two-year agreement following Hurricane Katrina.
The New Orleans opener was announced as a sellout, although Stern said he had little interest in scrutinizing attendance figures for this year's games.
Stern said he was more interested in the long-term business climate here. He added that projections he heard from local business leaders and academics when he visited last spring have so far proven "optimistic."
"It probably hasn't happened as fast, but nevertheless it's happening, and hopefully it will both continue to happen and pick up speed," Stern said.
Hornets owner George Shinn said he continued to negotiate with a small group of New Orleans business leaders interested in purchasing around 35 percent of the franchise. Shinn said an agreement with the group could be final by the end of next month.
Stern said completion of such a deal could strengthen the city's long-term prospects in the league markedly. He said he was meeting with some of the prospective investors himself.
"Investors are important for two reasons," Stern said. "No. 1, to show that local folks think this is a good investment and very much want to participate in the team's success here, and No. 2, to enlist them as sales people ... to be out there calling their friends, their business colleagues and the like that this is an endeavor that's worthy of your support on long-term basis."