NBA selling Hornets to NFL Saints owner

NEW YORK — Tom Benson, owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, has reached a deal with the NBA to purchase the league-owned New Orleans Hornets for $338 million, the NBA reported on Friday on its website.

The Hornets, with the worst record in the Western Conference at 16-42, were purchased by the league from original owner George Shinn in 2010 for a reported $318 million, giving NBA owners a profit from the move.

NBA commissioner David Stern pushed the league into making the move, seeing it as the best way to ensure the team remained in New Orleans, where it served as a symbol for a rebuilding community in the wake of 2005′s Hurricane Katrina.

The Hornets were forced to move out of New Orleans temporarily, as were the Saints, but both have returned to solid support; the struggling Hornets taking longer to rebuild a following than the successful Saints.

Benson, who had bid for the Hornets in January, had backed away from the deal but will now own 100 percent of the team, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

NFL rules would allow Benson to own both the Saints and the Hornets, the gridiron league’s rules against cross-ownership of clubs coming into play only involving franchises in areas other than the location of an owners’s NFL team.

Thus, a second New Orleans team would be fine even though the NFL forced Stan Kroenke to transfer ownership of the NBA Denver Nuggets to his son Josh when he became the majority owner of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

Two other bidders for the Hornets included former minority owner Gary Chouest, a partner during Shinn’s ownership, and a group led by businessman Raj Bhathal and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy that also included Larry Benson, Tom’s younger brother.

While they have the third-worst record in the NBA behind Washington and Charlotte, the Hornets should also have two of the top 15 selections in June’s NBA Draft of unclaimed talent to spark their bid to rebuild after dealing star guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers.

A deal with the state of Louisiana last month on a long-term lease will keep the Hornets in New Orleans through 2024.

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