Commish: Attendance in Oklahoma City not a factor

Updated: January 19, 2006, 4:24 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- NBA Commissioner David Stern said the Hornets' repeated large crowds in Oklahoma City will not be a factor in determining whether the team returns to New Orleans.

Stern told the Times-Picayune in a phone interview this week that it appears the repopulation of the New Orleans area is on pace to be of the size needed to support an NBA team for the long term.

While praising Oklahoma City's support of the NBA, Stern said the league still wants a team in New Orleans.

"They've done a great job in demonstrating they can support an NBA team" in Oklahoma City, Stern said. "But that doesn't change our view that [the Hornets] will be coming back to Louisiana. We're operating on the assumption that the repopulation on the long term will be complete in terms of having a population base that will support an NBA team."

Stern said his reading of the Hornets' lease of the state-owned New Orleans Arena is that the team is required to return as soon as the stadium, which had minor flooding after Hurricane Katrina, is in shape to host basketball games.

"When the Arena is playable, we're supposed to come back. That's just the way it is," Stern said.

However, state officials have indicated that in the short term, they are willing to be flexible with the Hornets if the team continues to have concerns about whether the New Orleans-area population has sufficiently recovered from storm damage to begin spending money on pro basketball again.

The Hornets have an option to play part of their schedule next season in Oklahoma City and Stern said he expects a decision on that to be made by the end of January.

The Hornets intend to play three games in New Orleans this March if the arena is ready.

"We want to have on-the-ground entertainment taking place in New Orleans at the earliest possible time, and those were the dates when they said they could get the building close enough to ready. And we said great, we're coming," Stern said. The games in New Orleans "are going to be successful because we are going to make them successful, and that doesn't mean they have to be sellouts. But the important thing is that they are there."

The Hornets, who won only 18 games last season, were not expected to be playoff contenders, but have shown substantial improvement this season and could fight for one of the lower playoff seedings in the Western Conference.

If the Hornets qualified for the playoffs, it is not clear where the team would play its home games.

When they were losing or playing other struggling teams, the Hornets found it a struggle to sell tickets in New Orleans, where even today there are so many other renowned entertainment options, from fine dining, to music clubs to carousing on Bourbon Street.

Two season ago, the Hornets even struggled to sell out first-round playoff games, although a couple of those games coincided with both a PGA tournament and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of the largest and most popular music festivals in the world.

Attendance in Oklahoma City this season is up by more than 4,000 per game from the 14,221 average the Hornets reported in New Orleans last season. However, the NBA is a novelty in Oklahoma, the Hornets are winning much more and ticket prices for a number of comparable seat locations have been lowered by around 40 percent.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press