On his way out of the NBA, here’s how everyone should remember that disingenuous Hornets owner George Shinn: Holding a microphone, stealing cheers that belonged to his coach and players, and telling lies about how he saved the NBA in New Orleans.
Three years ago, Shinn took his bows at halftime of a Hornets-San Antonio Spurs playoff game and sold himself as the force that brought the team back to a post-Katrina New Orleans. “They told me I was crazy to come back,” Shinn said, and how the fans roared for this man who was an unholy blend of Donald Sterling and Jimmy Swaggart. The ultimate photo-op phony.
Truth be told, NBA commissioner David Stern told Shinn to get his fanny back to New Orleans, because Shinn wanted to relocate to Oklahoma City and never look back. He was too poor to be an NBA owner, and nickel-and-dimed his franchises to mediocrity. His sexual assault civil trial in Charlotte turned one of the best, most supportive expansion cities ever into a dispassionate fandom that would never believe in the NBA again.
Now, Shinn can’t pay his debt on loans to the NBA, and he’s selling the team to the league office under the presumption it can find a new owner to keep the team in Louisiana. Stern wants tax deals the state gave the New Orleans Saints to stay, but he can forget it. Those franchises aren’t created equal in the football-steeped Bayou, and it’s hard to believe a debt-ridden state government is going to cut a sweetheart deal for the Hornets.
As horrible of an owner as Shinn had been for the NBA, he still served a purpose for Stern: The commissioner had something over Shinn and could always control him. Shinn was never healthy for Stern’s league, but he fit the profile among a fading breed in the NBA: He was indebted to the commissioner, forever willing to get behind the policies of Stern’s dictatorship.
If Stern had a small concern for the PR fallout of bailing on the hurricane-stricken city, he had his own political reasons to keep Shinn in New Orleans. First of all, it was clear Stern had cleared the way for Oklahoman Clay Bennett to eventually move the Seattle SuperSonics to the dust bowl.
Most of all, Stern manipulated the 2008 All-Star weekend in New Orleans into his own propaganda machine. After the '07 All-Star debacle in Las Vegas and the Tim Donaghy scandal, Stern turned New Orleans into a photo-op weekend. He piled his players onto buses with sportswriters and drove them to flooded wards to bang a nail, plant a bush, run a paint brush over a wall.
Stern poured it on thick, too. As he wore a T-shirt and jeans at an All-Star weekend event at an elementary school, he didn’t like the way a photographer cramped him as his wife tried to join him in painting a mural. “I came here to work, not for a photo-op,” Stern sniffed. Even some of Stern’s underlings charged with promoting that weekend became sheepish on how the league could make such a limited financial investment and run around and take such credit.
For different reasons, New Orleans has been used as a prop for the NBA. And that doesn’t change now. After Katrina, Shinn would tell make-believe stories about how Hornets players had come to him, begging that they never return to New Orleans only to have him insist he threatened to get rid of any player who dared talk that way.
To Shinn, the Hornets were little more than a prop to celebrate him as an upstanding pillar of the community. Now Shinn sells the Hornets to the NBA and gets to make believe he did it because he cares about the franchise staying in New Orleans. Another load of garbage out of him, another con on another city. Stern made this easy for Shinn, who does a public service and cashes out of the NBA.
Now, Stern goes back to his Seattle playbook: Ask for public monies that aren’t there and pretend he isn’t on the prowl for the next sweetheart deal somewhere in North America. Maybe the Hornets will find a buyer to keep them in New Orleans, but that appears a most improbable ending to this story. For George Shinn and David Stern, New Orleans served its purpose. The photo-op’s over.