OKLAHOMA CITY — NBA commissioner David Stern said Wednesday night the league has no plans for expansion, but the New Orleans Hornets' success in their new home has made Oklahoma City the favorite location if a team were to relocate.
"I can say without reservation that Oklahoma City is now at the top of the list," Stern said before the Hornets' game against the Orlando Magic.
Stern said the team's transition from New Orleans to Oklahoma City has gone more smoothly than expected and the team ranks sixth in the league in season ticket sales. He said the move was smoothed by the fact that the arenas in both cities are operated by the same company and the television and radio agreements are with the same companies.
The Hornets will play 35 home games in Oklahoma City and another six at LSU in Baton Rouge. If the New Orleans Arena is ready for use by March, three of the games could be moved from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
Stern said he didn't know whether doing so would require the Hornets to play in New Orleans next season, because of the team's arena contract with the city.
The team has an option to play a second season in Oklahoma City.
"I don't trust lawyers," said Stern, an attorney himself.
Stern said the NBA's relationship with Oklahoma City began when Mayor Mick Cornett dropped by his office a couple years ago on a visit to New York.
"He described the virtues of Oklahoma City — what it had been through on the tragic side and how it was rebuilding and how sports had been a part of that," Stern said.
Cornett visited again and sent information to Stern about Oklahoma City's potential to support a major league franchise. He also mentioned the Ford Center, which was built to NBA and NHL standards in 2002 without a major tenant.
Stern joked that he wished Cornett luck in getting an NHL franchise.
After Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets out of New Orleans, Cornett tried to call Stern several times, and finally got through to deputy commissioner Russ Granik.
Over time, Oklahoma City emerged as the prime candidate to temporarily house the Hornets, and Stern recommended the city to Hornets owner George Shinn.
As he has done since the team came to Oklahoma City, Stern re-emphasized that the league intends for the Hornets to return to New Orleans. But he has been impressed by Oklahoma City.
"This a delicate subject," Stern said. "I would say that I see it as a potential for relocation more than for expansion . . . I think that 30 teams is enough right now."