NBA Owner Meets With Coast Business Leaders - - The News for South Mississippi

NBA Owner Meets With Coast Business Leaders

For Charlotte Hornets owner Ray Wooldridge, being in Gulfport was kind of like being home. Wooldridge grew up in Columbus, Miss., and he attended Mississippi State University. On Wednesday, the NBA owner returned to the state he once called home, and sold pro basketball to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Wooldridge's first stop on his NBA sales tour was at the Gulfport chamber's breakfast with the mayor program. He told chamber members, "We think that the statement we're making about this southern region here is going to be very important in attracting other businesses here."

Wooldridge told the business leaders that on April 9th, the NBA will approve the Hornets' move to New Orleans.

"It's a 100 percent slam dunk done deal," he said. "We are committed. It will happen. This is the only part we need. We just need fans."

Finding fans is why Wooldridge reached out beyond the Louisiana border. The team set a goal. It wanted 10,000 season ticket deposits and more than 50 luxury box rentals by March 15. That would be five days before the NBA's relocation committee comes to town.

Terri Gonzalez was one of the people Wooldridge met at the chamber breakfast. She told the Hornets owner that her position at Keesler Air Force Base could benefit both the team and her military families.

"We've got a ticket office at Keesler," she said. "We want to provide the troops with lots of entertaiment and things like that. So this is an excellent opportunity."

The Hornets will eventually open a marketing office somewhere on the Coast. That way Mississippi fans will have access to the New Orleans basketball team.

"I know it's a bit of a distance from here to New Orleans," the Hornets owner told chamber members. "But we think we plug in beautifully."

In fact, Wooldridge said he'll showcase the coast when the NBA's relocation committee comes to New Orleans next month.

A marketing executive told the Gulfport chamber that the Hornets have worked out a one-of-a-kind season ticket financing plan. On Thursday, they'll announce that New Orleans will be the first NBA team to let fans pay off their tickets over the course of the season.

By Brad Kessie

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