NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The NBA is awarding New Orleans the 2014 All-Star game, now that Tom Benson has agreed to buy the Hornets and sign a lease extension at New Orleans Arena, a person familiar with the decision said.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press on Monday because an announcement by NBA Commissioner David Stern was scheduled for the afternoon.
Stern had already pledged that New Orleans would get an All-Star game once a new owner and lease extension were in place, and because of potential conflicts with Mardi Gras, awarding the game in 2014 made the most sense, the person who spoke to the AP said.
The 2013 game will be played in Houston, and Mardi Gras falls on March 4 in 2014, well after the usual mid-February date for NBA All-Star weekend. Mardi Gras falls in mid-February in 2015 and 2016, so if the NBA had given the 2014 event to New York, as some predicted, it would not make sense to hold the game in New Orleans again until 2017. By then, Benson would be 89 years old.
Stern was in New Orleans on Monday to introduce the New Orleans Saints owner as the new Hornets owner. The two announced an agreement Friday for Benson to take over the Hornets, who have often been on shaky ground since arriving in the Big Easy in 2002.
The Hornets spent two seasons in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina and often struggled at the gate. They were routinely mentioned as a team of interest by other cities looking to lure an NBA franchise through relocation.
When Hornets founder George Shinn decided he was racking up too much debt and decided to sell, he struggled to find a buyer who would pay what he wanted and still keep the club in New Orleans. The NBA then took the unprecedented step of buying the club in December 2010.
Since then, the NBA has spent about 14 months working to increase the value of the franchise and prepare it for sale to a local owner. The league found such a buyer in Benson, who agreed to a purchase price of about $338 million.
Benson also agreed to sign a lease, worked out previously between the state of Louisiana and the NBA, which locks the Hornets into the New Orleans Arena through 2024.
Once Benson receives widely anticipated approval by the NBA’s board of governors, he will have control of a sports, media and real estate empire in New Orleans. He’ll be the primary lease holder of both the Superdome and neighboring arena. He owns an office tower adjacent to the Superdome, along with an outdoor concert and exhibition plaza on the property called Champions Square. He also owns the local Fox television network affiliate.
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