NEW ORLEANS — Tom Benson sat on stage at the New Orleans Arena on Monday afternoon, his wife Gayle to his right and NBA commissioner David Stern to his left and in front of a blue banner with the NBA logo scattered on it.
And while Stern and the other dignitaries around him were content to discuss Benson’s acquisition of the New Orleans Hornets, the new owner had other plans.
Specifically, a name change for the city’s professional basketball team.
“We want to change the name from the Hornets to something that means New Orleans, La.,” Benson said, unprovoked by questioning. “The Hornets don’t mean anything.”
Stern, his face firmly planted in his hands, responded immediately, saying that Benson doesn’t technically own the team yet since the NBA Board of Governors has yet to approve the sale.
The name change was just one thing Benson and the NBA announced, including the awarding of the 2014 All-Star game to New Orleans, a prerequisite in accordance to the negotiated lease that was announced in March.
The other news was that the Hornets will build a new practice facility, getting the team out of the Alario Center in Westwego, La.
Doug Thornton, vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Arena and Superdome, said preliminary plans have begun to take shape, including scouting multiple locations in the New Orleans metropolitan area, though he did say the new facility wouldn’t be at the current downtown sports complex.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is get a practice facility,” Benson said. “It’s got to be what we ought to have to get this team ready to win a championship.”
The Hornets have the choice to put $10 million of Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District money, which was negotiated in the new lease, into either Arena upgrades or a new practice facility.
As for the All-Star game, Stern said the city was in line for another one based on 2008’s success.
“It was an easy give by me because we had such a good experience in 2008,” Stern said. “This city has gotten even better, if that’s possible, at hosting large events. All you need to do is turn on your television set and see that.”
The only issue was timing – it had to coincide with a time when Mardi Gras allowed it. Carnival season ends in 2014 on March 4, nearly two weeks after All-Star weekend.