Among a crowded room of reporters, city and state officials, and FedEx brass, J.R. Pitt Hyde III made this stunning announcement:
After 30 years of pursuing a professional franchise, first in the NFL, and now with the NBA, I am happy to report that two franchises have filed for Memphis as the NBA site.
The Vancouver Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets submitted separate applications to the NBA board of governors naming Memphis as the city where they wanted to relocate.
What happens from this point is that the league will be establishing an expansion committee," Hyde said. "They will be doing two things. One, they will be evaluating all of our applications to assure themselves that Memphis qualifies in every respect as an NBA city. The second thing they will be doing is that they will be evaluating the two franchises that have applied to Memphis and they will make a selection between those two.
Hyde seemed certain that the local ownership group of Staley Cates, Andy Cates, Charles Ewing, and himself will own up to 50 percent of whichever franchise ends up here in the city.
The press conference was in fact more of a pep rally with non-media out numbering reporters by at least 7 to 1. Of the various speakers, Ewing, the African-American small businessman, was the most lively.
Im excited. The adrenaline is flowing so high right now so I dont know if I will say all the right things, but Ill say what I believe. I believe that this NBA team is good for Memphis," he told a cheering audience. "We need your support now. Now that it is here, we have only just begun. We need you to work diligently with us.
Ewing said he didn't know if there would be a tax increase needed to build the new arena or not, but said that he was willing to pay that price. "If that's what it takes, then I'm willing to step up to the plate."
Despite the uncertainty, both Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and county mayor Jim Rout expressed confidence that this was a good move for Memphis.
Am I thrilled? Am I happy? Do I think that an NBA franchise is great for Memphis, Shelby County, and this region? Of course yes," Herenton said. "Todays announcement really represents a new beginning in the history of Memphis as we move forward to becoming a serious contender for an NBA franchise. It has been my contention that Memphis best days are ahead of them. This is another step in that evolutionary process.
Rout spoke of the benefits to Memphis. I can tell you it will be amazing how much we will have for this community when you will be able to go to any city in the United States of America where there are NBA teams, open the sports section, and there you are. Memphis, Tennessee.
Count FedEx's Mike Glenn among those who think that the cargo giant's willingness to participate in the deal was a significant reason that the two teams chose Memphis.
We feel confident that our taking on the naming rights clearly was an important part of our success in being named today as a city for a possible NBA franchise," Glenn said. "Were excited about the opportunity to work with the [Memphis] ownership group and whichever [NBA] ownership group is designated to take the lead in Memphis, we are confident that we can come to a viable conclusion.
The move will be the first for an NBA franchise in 16 years. The last came about when the Kansas City Kings moved to Sacramento.
The Charlotte Observer reported on Monday that the owners of the Hornets, Ray Wooldridge and George Shinn, would swap their franchise for Michael Heisley's Grizzlies. The owners in Charlotte are facing a referendum whether the city should build the Hornets a new arena. The one they play in now is 13 years old. Some speculate that Shinn and Wooldridge think that the referendum would have a better chance to succeed with a new owner at the helm.
Professional sports teams have been swapped before. The owners of the Boston Celtics traded their franchise with the owners of the Buffalo Braves who later moved to San Diego and became the Clippers.
The Hornets are a much more sucessful team than the Grizzlies. Hyde declined to comment on the issue of a swap.
Over the next 120 days, a relocation committee of the NBA board of governors will evaluate each teams application as well as Memphis suitability as a host-city. Then it will make a recommendation to the full board of governors.