Everything I write about Aug. 29, 2005 and Katrina is admittedly from an outsider’s perspective. That’s because like millions of other Americans, I watched the events unfold on television and the Internet, stunned by many of the horrifying scenes coming from New Orleans. I was working as a newspaper sportswriter in my native New York prior to being hired in November 2005 by the Hornets, replacing one of the team’s employees who chose not to relocate to Oklahoma from Louisiana.
Between mid-September 2005 and the start of the 2005-06 regular season, the Hornets organization scrambled to fill positions that were essential to running the operations of an NBA franchise, starting with ticket sales, ticket operations and sponsorship, then eventually jobs such as mine.
People I meet often ask me: “How exactly did you end up working for the Hornets? How did you get to New Orleans?” The most concise answer is that it was mostly by chance. While I was writing full-time for my hometown newspaper, the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, N.Y., I started applying for jobs in the NBA. I’d been doing freelance writing for basketball magazines including SLAM, Inside Stuff and HOOP, which spurred me to set a goal of eventually working full-time in the league, in order to cover my favorite sport exclusively.
I essentially decided that I would accept a quality job from the first NBA team that offered me one, regardless of its location or circumstances. Whether you’d call it fate, coincidence or luck, that team ended up being the Hornets. It’s been an incredible experience for a multitude of reasons, and certainly not solely from a basketball perspective. Due to the complexity of the team’s Katrina-related moves out of New Orleans and later back into the Crescent City, in many ways this has been the most unique situation among all 30 of the league’s franchises.
Back when I was applying for NBA jobs, I never imagined spending as much time as we have over the past five years discussing so many things that have little to do with basketball, particularly during the team’s move back to New Orleans in 2007. I vividly remember during the 2007-08 season, there was one avid Hornets fan I’d see frequently around the city who never once asked me basketball-related questions. Every time he saw me on a game day, he’d instead ask, “Hey Jim, how does attendance look for tonight?” There were so many concerns among New Orleanians about the franchise’s viability in summer ’07 that off-court issues sometimes seemed of greater import than the games themselves. Fortunately, the unprecedented success of the 2007-08 Hornets erased many of those short-term question marks and demonstrated the franchise’s potential to thrive here long-term.
From my perspective, the Hornets’ tenure in New Orleans is still in its infancy stages. They’ve still only played six full seasons in the Big Easy, never for more than three seasons consecutively (every other NBA franchise aside from the Raptors, Grizzlies, Bobcats and Thunder has been in its current city for a minimum of 21 seasons). There is still a significant amount of work to do in terms of building the team’s fan base and deepening the connection between New Orleans and the Hornets, but for me, I believe we’ll know when the team has “made it” in the city. It will be when the vast majority of the talk surrounding the franchise revolves around what happens on the court – not off of it.