The maverick — sorry for the pun — owner wants the NBA to succeed in the Big Easy. He does not want to see the team forced to relocate because of lack of interest, lack of economic support from the hurricane-ravaged city or lack of motivation by owner George Shinn.
Given his checkered history, especially with the destruction of the Charlotte Hornets, it’s difficult to envision Shinn as a sympathetic figure, but he is definitely attempting to woo the NBA public into believing he wants to stay in New Orleans. He wants the league to buy the perception that he is doing everything possible to reunite a rebuilding city to its basketball team.
Cuban doesn’t buy that. Not that he thinks it’s impossible for the NBA to work in New Orleans, but just doesn’t believe Shinn is making a concerted effort to make the product work. Don’t let the fraternity persona fool you, Cuban is a hustler and that’s exactly how he turned a moribund franchise into one of the league’s models.
He enticed the city of Dallas and state of Texas to pay $210 million of his $420 million arena for a team that has yet to win an NBA title. He single-handedly turned a downtrodden franchise into a first-class organization by warming himself to the Dallas community. (Something Clay Bennett should have done before asking the state for $300 million.)
So his sympathy is short for Shinn, who has until the end of the 2008-09 season to average 14,735 fans at desolate New Orleans Arena. Shinn said in January that the goal is attainable, but many NBA observers believe he’s kidding himself, especially at this rate.
“Somebody’s got to get off their ass and sell tickets,” Cuban said earlier this month. “They’ve got the best record in the Western Conference and they can’t get people to come? That’s not New Orleans, that’s effort. There’s enough people. There’s enough basketball fans to get 16, 17,000 people to come, even if they’re weekend games. So they have bad nights Monday and Tuesday.”
Cuban has never been one to mince words and will never conform to his fellow owners. He said he will not automatically vote for Sonics relocation because of the potential payday for his peers nor will he offer empathy to Shinn because that’s what the controversial owner seeks.
“When I took over the Mavs, we sucked,” Cuban said. “I hired 40 salespeople to get out there and get on the phones and I got on the phones and was calling people. Whatever it took. We had concerts after games. If I found a pretty girl, I gave her free tickets so she would tell her guy friends to bring people. Whatever it takes to get people in the arena, you gotta do it and that’s what they’re not doing down there.”
So in other words, Shinn needs to do more hustling and less whining. The question is whether he has wasted too much time already.