<
>

Stern: Oklahoma City top candidate if team moves

OKLAHOMA CITY -- NBA commissioner David Stern said Wednesday
night the league has no plans for expansion, but the New Orleans Hornets' success in their new home has made Oklahoma City the
favorite location if a team were to relocate.

"I can say without reservation that Oklahoma City is now at the
top of the list," Stern said before the Hornets' game against the
Orlando Magic.

Stern said the team's transition from New Orleans to Oklahoma
City has gone smoother than expected and the team ranks sixth in
the league in season ticket sales. He said the move was smoothed by
the fact that the arenas in both cities are operated by the same
company and the television and radio agreements are with the same
companies.

The Hornets will play 35 home games in Oklahoma City and another
six at LSU in Baton Rouge. If the New Orleans Arena is ready for
use by March, three of the games could be moved from Baton Rouge to
New Orleans.

Stern said he didn't know whether doing so would require the
Hornets to play in New Orleans next season, because of the team's
arena contract with the city.

The team has an option to play a second season in Oklahoma City.

"I don't trust lawyers," said Stern, an attorney himself.

Stern said the NBA's relationship with Oklahoma City began when
Mayor Mick Cornett dropped by his office a couple years ago on a
visit to New York.

"He described the virtues of Oklahoma City -- what it had been
through on the tragic side and how it was rebuilding and how sports
had been a part of that," Stern said.

Cornett visited again and sent information to Stern about
Oklahoma City's potential to support a major league franchise. He
also mentioned the Ford Center, which was built to NBA and NHL
standards in 2002 without a major tenant.

Stern joked that he wished Cornett luck in getting an NHL
franchise.

After Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets out of New Orleans,
Cornett tried to call Stern several times, and finally got through
to deputy commissioner Russ Granik.

Over time, Oklahoma City emerged as the prime candidate to
temporarily house the Hornets, and Stern recommended the city to
Hornets owner George Shinn.

As he has done since the team came to Oklahoma City, Stern
re-emphasized that the league intends for the Hornets to return to
New Orleans. But he has been impressed by Oklahoma City.

"This a delicate subject," Stern said. "I would say that I
see it as a potential for relocation more than for expansion. ... I
think that 30 teams is enough right now."