David Stern Rumors
Prospective owners from other cities were circling, looking to snatch away the Hornets. The NBA was on the verge of a lockout. The league didn’t want to run the team long. They needed a local buyer and yet none seemed willing. Interest in the Hornets was low. Local fans figured the NBA was as good as gone. Something had to change fast or even Stern wouldn’t be able to keep the Hornets there. “I was operating under the assumption that if the plan didn’t work the team would move,” Jac Sperling, the sports executive recruited by the NBA to run the Hornets, told The Vertical. “Everyone on our staff thought that, too.”
The Hornets had sold just 6,300 season tickets the season before, a number well below the 10,000 that is considered the industry standard for franchise stability. Sperling and Weber quickly realized that after negotiating a new lease and cutting a better television deal, they had to find a way to sell 3,700 more season tickets. If they could do that they were sure the league would see New Orleans was viable and perhaps it could find a local owner.
That’s when they thought of the house parties. The concept of sales events are not new in sports. They are usually called “influencers” and have proven effective at creating a bond between team executives and potential season-ticket buyers. Often teams hold these in sterile settings like hotel meeting rooms. But what if instead of meeting rooms the Hornets held influencers at people’s homes? “The idea was to get into people’s homes face-to-face and convince them that the team was going to stay,” Sperling said. He imagined people gathered on a big New Orleans porch, drinks in hand, talking about the city. It was perfect, he thought. Someone suggested holding 100 parties on 100 nights, a round number they thought would generate enthusiasm. Everyone agreed that sounded right. With a lockout coming it wasn’t like they had anything else to do.
Finally, on Dec. 8, the day the lockout ended, the team and Mitch Landrieu, the mayor at the time, held a news conference to say the Hornets had sold 10,019 season tickets. A goal that once seemed impossible had been met. “The city of New Orleans came together and sent a message to the NBA that we’re in,” Landrieu said that afternoon.
Carlisle credits Goldberg for being a driving force in the NBA coaches association’s battle for significantly increased pension benefits in 2007. It wouldn’t have been possible, according to Carlisle, without the relationship that Goldberg had cultivated for decades with former commissioner David Stern. “Commissioner Stern could be very intimidating, but Michael’s long relationship with him was instrumental to our being able to break through,” Carlisle said. “Michael was persistent but in the most respectful way in pleading our case to David and ownership. Without him, we would have had no shot.”
“I would never say never,” Silver acknowledged. “And if we can do it anywhere, it’s London, just because of the logistics. Of travelling over here, especially from the East coast of the United States. And this is something that David Stern talked about when he was Commissioner, just because of the density of our schedule, if we were going to come to Europe, come to the UK, we’d need to do it with more than one team. To do it with a Division. It’s something we’ll continue to look at.”
No one was more aware how important the Lakers were to the NBA than Stern, who once joked his ideal NBA Finals matchup would be “the Lakers versus the Lakers.” For all his contributions – Stern played a major part in making the NBA’s TV rights worth $2.6 billion – he has never heard the end of this … and shouldn’t … despite his insistence that he couldn’t reject a deal that never was. “What cancellation?” Stern asked recently, less than enchanted to be asked about it again five years later. “The GM (New Orleans’ Dell Demps) was not authorized to make that trade. And acting on behalf of owners, we decided not to make it. I was an owner rep. There was nothing to ‘void.’ It just never got made.”