Raj Bhathal Rumors
The league chose Benson, who will be purchasing the team by himself, over a group of investors including businessman Raj Bhathal and former NBA head coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy, and former minority owner Gary Chouest, who had tried unsuccessfully to buy the team from majority owner George Shinn three years ago. The Bhathal group also included Larry Benson, Tom Benson’s younger brother.
By the time NBA Commissioner David Stern closes the second day of the league’s Board of Governors meeting at New York’s St. Regis Hotel on Friday, the New Orleans Hornets could have a new owner. It appears the league might be ready to choose between an offer from a group headed by California swimwear manufacturer Raj Bhathal that will include former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest, and a bid from New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.
The Board of Governors could be asked to approve the ownership transfer for the Hornets before the meeting adjourns Friday afternoon. The NBA declined to comment and the other parties couldn’t be reached for comment. Sources close to the Bhathal group, which also included Larry Benson, Tom Benson’s youngest brother and represented in ongoing negotiations by former NBA player, coach and executive Mike Dunleavy, said Bhathal and Chouest met in New York on Monday with league officials, and possibly with Stern, while Benson reportedly also spoke with the NBA on Monday but was not in New York. All parties involved in the negotiations to purchase the league-owned Hornets have signed a confidentiality agreement, though in the past two months the Bhathal group has been publicly identified, as has Chouest’s ongoing interest in becoming a minority partner in that consortium.
Sources close to Bhathal’s group said Thursday that it has been Bhathal’s focus from the beginning to keep the team in New Orleans and that Bhathal has the financial wherewithal to consummate a purchase. Chouest, the source said, did not want to be a majority owner of the Hornets, but wanted to be involved on a basis similar to his previous minority ownership with founding owner George Shinn. Chouest initially purchased a 25 percent stake in the Hornets and absorbed an additional 10 percent through a series of financial contributions over the years.
A group led by Los Angeles-area businessman Raj Bhathal, who founded one of the country’s leading swimwear manufacturing companies, has emerged as a top candidate to purchase the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA, sources said Thursday. The group includes Larry J. Benson, brother of Saints owner Tom Benson and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy.
Former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest is heading another group interested in buying the team. NBA Commissioner David Stern said in an interview earlier this week televised by the league’s cable network, NBA-TV, that there was one front-runner in the search for a buyer and one in reserve. He did not identify an individual or group. Bhathal, 72, and Larry Benson, 66, each once owned franchises in the now defunct World League of American Football, a spring league venture initiated and funded by the NFL in 1990. Bhathal owned the franchise in Orlando, Fla., while Benson owned the team in San Antonio, his home base. The NBA purchased the Hornets from founding owner George Shinn in December 2010 for about $318 million and has since invested additional capital into the organization, an indication that the asking price for the team at least would have to cover the totality of the league’s outlay.