Baltimore would make an ideal new hive for wayward Hornets

ON THE NBA

January 13, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Absent some miraculous shift in public opinion, the Charlotte Hornets will be heading for new territory come the end of the season, and there are at least three cities offering them safe harbor.

One of them is not the Harbor city, namely Baltimore, and that doesn't make sense.

That the Hornets are going is in little doubt. Fans in Charlotte, once the most rabid in the league throughout the first eight or nine years of the franchise, have become indifferent, if not hostile, to the Hornets.

In June, Charlotte voters overwhelmingly voted down a proposal for funding a variety of civic projects, including a new arena to replace the 13-year-old Coliseum, which is said to lack the all-important luxury boxes that are deemed vital to the survival of the modern professional franchise.

The Hornets' owners, George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge, have been shopping the team, moving among Norfolk, Va., Louisville, Ky., and the presumed favorite, New Orleans, which has a new, state-of-the-art arena with those lovely luxury boxes.

Inexplicably, though, no one is talking about Baltimore, which is not only a drastically larger metropolitan area and television market than any of the three Hornets candidates, but also larger than six cities that already have NBA teams.

Baltimore has two big strikes against it - namely its proximity to Washington and the Wizards, who, of course, used to play here as the Bullets, and the lack of a first-class arena.

But neither obstacle is insurmountable. As for Washington, any argument that city might make for the return of baseball could be used in reverse here for basketball, with one notable exception: Unlike the Orioles, who actively market in Washington, the Wizards have abandoned Baltimore, dropping their four-game package of games here five years ago.

And surely the Baltimore Arena could serve as a temporary home for the Hornets, while a new building, constructed mainly if not solely with private funds, is built.

Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke saw the possibilities of the NBA returning when he proposed a new arena before he left office. His successor, Martin O'Malley, thus far hasn't seen the light. But there is time.

Quick quiz

San Antonio Spurs guard Steve Smith is on pace to shatter the NBA's single-season record for three-point accuracy, so far shooting at a 57 percent clip. Only four players in league history have shot over 50 percent for the season. Name them.

First Amendment blues

The battles of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was fined $500,000 by the league for questioning the integrity of supervisor of officiating Ed Rush, as well as suggesting that Rush couldn't manage a Dairy Queen, aren't the only recent stumbles NBA types have had with free speech.

For instance, it didn't take long for Memphis Grizzlies guard Jason Williams to notice that he wasn't in Sacramento anymore, as he fired off a quick observational blast last week about the quality of the team after a loss, saying, "We suck. We suck. We're the worst team in the league. Go ahead and print that."

In the process, Williams found out a funny thing about reporters: If you say provocative things like that and tell them to print those things, they will. As a result, Williams was fined an undisclosed amount by the club, proving you can always speak your mind, provided you have a checkbook handy.

Said his teammate, Shane Battier: "I think everyone on the team knows Jason and his personality. The guys on the team liken him to an artist, where he can be brilliant, he can be elusive, he can be misunderstood sometimes. I think in the heat of the moment, he made some comments that he didn't mean to the extent in which they were taken by everyone in the locker room and the media, but we had a meeting and we're working to sort things out."

Meanwhile, Portland Trail Blazers guard Bonzi Wells is paying a more karmic price for his observation in Sports Illustrated last month that he and his teammates "are not really going to worry about what the hell [the fans] think about us. They really don't matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they're still going to ask for our autographs if they see us on the street. That's why they're fans and we're NBA players."

Since making his remarks, Wells' play has dropped off considerably.

"It definitely threw me out of my rhythm," Wells told The Oregonian. "I was in a nice little groove, I was playing well, but then I said what I said. I wish it never happened. It was ugly, it was stupid, but it was a learning experience for me.

"It hurt my feelings in a way. I mean, my relationship with the fans kind of fluctuated there a little bit, but I know I can get it back, and the only way to do that is to start working harder in practice. That's where it's going to start out. I just have to put this to rest."

Quiz answer

Tim Legler, then of the Bullets, shot .522 in the 1995-96 season, and Miami's Jon Sunvold also shot .522 from three-point range in the 1988-89 campaign. The other two belong to Steve Kerr, who connected at a .507 rate for the 1989-90 Cleveland Cavaliers and at a .524 clip for the 1994-95 Chicago Bulls.

Quote of the week

"I always try and come back with a fabulous performance whenever I have to sit out for whatever reason. Usually, when a tree has been chopped down as much as this tree has, it gets rest and the chlorophyll replenishes itself." - Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, after getting 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Phoenix in his return after missing five games with an arthritic big toe.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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