Stern: New Orleans questions must be answered soon

NEW ORLEANS -- NBA Commissioner David Stern said there is no
question about the Hornets' full-time return to the city 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 to the city 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 continues 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 and that 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."

Shinn said that while much work remains to be done for next
season, he expects the six games in New Orleans to be successful.
The other five games have not yet sold out but ticket sales are
solid and all but five of the New Orleans Arena's 54 suites have
been sold for all of the games.

Shinn said he has spent about half of the past six months in New
Orleans and has been encouraged by signs of recent progress in even
devastated neighborhoods, where he said he notices more lights on
at night and much heavier traffic.

"We've got a job to do and we're going to do it," Shinn said.
"We stepped up and improved this team. We're going to do
everything we can to improve this city. We're committed to do the
right thing."