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NBA close to buying Hornets

New Orleans HornetsIn an unprecedented move, the National Basketball Association is close to buying the New Orleans Hornets in an attempt to keep the team afloat after a sale of the team to Gary Chouest fell through.

George Shinn wants out, and he was slated to sell his 65 percent of the team for $300 million to Chouest, who owns 35 percent of the franchise. But Chouest developed cold feet at the last moment, forcing Commissioner David Stern‘s hand.

Under the plan being floated now, the NBA would buy the team and then attempt to flip it to an owner committed to keeping the team in New Orleans or else to a qualified buyer; different press reports report both. Jac Sperling, the vice chairman of the Minnesota Wild (NHL) and a native of New Orleans, would negotiate the purchase and the eventual sale of the team.

The team could be moved as soon as next season if current attendance trends continue; the lease at New Orleans Arena can be terminated for a $10 million penalty if attendance averages 14,735 fans per game through January 31; currently the Hornets average 13,860 fans a game. Though the NBA is going through one of the most serious financial crises in league history, owning a franchise is considered to be a desirable investment, with teams on the open market snatched up despite a rather involved sales process that includes league oversight and approval of potential owners. Las Vegas, Kansas City, Seattle and Anaheim loom as a potential destination for any team seeking a change in scenery. (In fact, Steve Ballmer‘s name has already been floated as a potential buyer of the franchise.)

It would be the first time the NBA officially purchased a franchise. This can lead to all sorts of complications: witness the multiple years Major League Baseball owned the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals before finding a buyer for the property.

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