Jac Sperling Rumors
Two groups have been identified as in bidding for control of the team, a California-based consortium led by swimwear manufacturer Raj Bhathal, in union with Larry Benson, Mike Dunleavy, and potential New Orleans-area minority investors, and former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest. The Bhathal group, according to sources, is believed to be the one in the lead, as characterized last week by Stern, with Chouest as a backup. Hornets chairman Jac Sperling, the New Orleans native whom Stern appointed to provide stewardship for the franchise, improve its troublesome economics and broker a sale that would provide long-term viability and stability here, has been simultaneously negotiating with buyers and speaking with state officials about the framework of a lease extension that will keep the team in New Orleans through 2024, with no escape clauses.
Sperling said potential investors are unconcerned with the team’s present difficulties, preferring instead to focus on the possibilities. “I’d say they’re looking at the future,” Sperling said. “I think, all of us (are). You have young players out there who are getting a chance to play. And they’re showing what they can do. The younger players are coming through; they’re working hard, they’re learning. Monty has them playing at full strength. Nothing is ever perfect in terms of the way people play. But they’re learning and playing hard. “And as I said, if we had our three or four or five players who are injured playing, we would be playing a lot better in terms of our results. With two first- round draft picks (one acquired in the Paul trade) in a pretty deep draft, with what Monty has got the young guys doing, and the core of a team here, I think it’s going to be a good team next year.”
Sperling would offer no concrete information on individuals or groups that could still be actively negotiating. Former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest, whose agreement in principle to buy the team from founding owner George Shinn twice fell through at the final hour, necessitating league intervention in December 2010, is said to be among the prospective buyers, while Saints owner Tom Benson and a group of West Coast investors fronted by former NBA coach and executive Mike Dunleavy have also been reportedly interested.
Sources with knowledge of the sales discussions indicated that the list of potential suitors has been whittled from a half-dozen or so, a number acknowledged by Stern on several occasions, and that all parties have entered into confidentiality agreements regarding sales discussions.
When the NBA assumed ownership of the team, Jac Sperling was appointed governor of the team by the league and was paired with team president Hugh Weber. The two set out to prove that not only were the Hornets a valuable and viable franchise, but that NBA business could be conducted in New Orleans on a much bigger scale. “When we started, the commissioner’s vision was to give New Orleans a chance to show what it could do in establishing itself as an NBA city for the long term,” Sperling explained to HOOPSWORLD. “That was our goal and our vision and we took it seriously from the very beginning. “There’s a great staff here. The governor and the mayor have been really supportive. Our fans are great. We just put our shoulders to the wheel from day one and came up with some ideas about what we needed to do to change.”
“It’s bigger than any one player, it’s bigger than any business transaction and our fans totally understood that. “We all miss Chris, but he’s off to other ventures and we wish him well. We’re on to different ventures ourselves. We’re in the next phase of the Hornets and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve got some good players. We have a great coach. We have a great general manager and perhaps the best fans in the NBA.”
For Jac Sperling, who has been involved in sports for more than 20 years, it was simply part of the business. “Individuals come and go,” explained Sperling. “As great of a player and a citizen as Chris was, he was a player for this city and this team. I think our fans have really understood that our situation is not about any one player. It wasn’t about the labor situation. It was about the future of the city of New Orleans.