Brett Martel / The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- George Shinn said he sold the Hornets for about $50 million less than he could have because he wants the club to remain in New Orleans, and he would be willing to buy back in as a minority investor should a viable Louisiana ownership group come together.
Shinn, who has rarely been to New Orleans since selling the club to the NBA in early December, returned Monday to present $500,000 from his foundation to a Salvation Army program aimed at helping the working poor find stable housing.
Afterward, Shinn said he plans to donate much of his wealth to charity, and for the same reason, rejected a $350 million offer from Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison.
"He sent me an offer in writing and I just couldn't find it in my heart to do it," Shinn said, adding that he worried Ellison would move the club to the West Coast.
The former owner also attended Monday night's Hornets game against the Utah Jazz, and received a warm reception from the crowd when he was introduced and shown on the arena's video boards during the first half.
Shinn said moving the Hornets back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, following two financially successful seasons in Oklahoma City, was a risk that he found gratifying because of the extent to which team was able to participate in the recovery from the storm.
The Hornets helped rebuild homes, playgrounds and basketball courts, and Shinn's foundation aided the homeless with things like new shoes during the holidays.
"When we were in Oklahoma City, we struggled with the decision to come back and what we did, we prayed about it," Shinn said. "I felt like it was the right thing to do. New Orleans was suffering. They went through the storm. People were homeless. People were leaving. It was all kinds of negative stuff and it was heavy on my heart.
"We knew we were taking a (financial) risk, but to me it was worth it."
Shinn, who will be 70 next month, decided to sell the team last spring while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Shinn said he had promised in his prayers to spend the rest of his life "serving the Lord" if he beat cancer and therefore wanted to realize the growth in his investment in his NBA franchise and focus his remaining years on charitable work.
Shinn said his cancer appears to be gone and confirmed that he sold the Hornets for about $300 million, representing a sizable profit over the $32.5 million he said it cost to launch the franchise in Charlotte in 1988.
When he agreed to sell to the league, Shinn said he told commissioner David Stern, "I want you to just promise me you'll do everything you can to keep the team (in New Orleans), because that's my goal."
Earlier last year, Shinn had tried to sell to former minority partner and Louisiana businessman Gary Chouest, who owns a business that supplies vessels for the offshore energy industry. Chouest backed away without explaining why publicly. Since then, however, Chouest has said he remains interested in becoming a majority owner under the right conditions.
While Chouest has not gone into detail, it appears that he is looking for more minority partners and also waiting to see how the NBA's labor negotiations turn out after this season, when the league's collective bargaining agreement expires.
"Gary was a wonderful partner for me and he was one of the main reasons I was able to bring the team back here," Shinn said. "Gary's a good man. He loves this area and this community."
Shinn said that although the Hornets have struggled with attendance and revenues recently, the 2008-09 season, when the club turned a profit, proved to him that the NBA could work in New Orleans, particularly as the city's economy continues to recover from Katrina.
"The people need this team. It's a tremendous community asset," Shinn said. "This community can keep this team ... but they've got to support it."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)