The news that Benson erased the competition to buy the New Orleans Hornets might come as a mild surprise to those who believe NBA Commissioner David Stern. The commish had anointed Raj Bhathal, a swimsuit manufacturer and a former owner in the World League of American Football, as the leading candidate. Second-tier was said to be former minority owner Gary Chouest, who probably has more money than Benson and Bhathal combined. The only mention of a Benson was Tom's younger brother Larry, a San Antonio attorney, who was said to be a member of the Bhathal group. Wow, this sounds like old Larry might have been doing some espionage so his big brother could make a surprise run at the team. Nah, he wouldn't do that, wink, wink ;)
At least current coach Monty Williams and GM Dell Demps can stop looking over their shoulder to see Mike Dunleavy, who was Bhathal's GM/Coach in waiting. Now, they might be seeing shadows of Sean Payton! It will be interesting to see how Benson handles his new management team, which includes president Hugh Weber, but that will play out over the next few months. Suffice it to say that the purchase of the Hornets is the crowning gem in Benson's long-term efforts to corner the market on New Orleans sports since he put together a partnership to buy the Saints in 1985. Benson was a minority owner initially as nine different partnerships included 37 separate investors. However, drawing on his experience as a shrewd car dealer, Benson came in as managing partner and slowly began accumulating shares. Then, in 1993 he exercised his managing partner rights and bought out the rest.
Since then, Benson has tried to bring the Double-A Charlotte Knights to New Orleans, but was stymied by local lawyer Rob Couhig's purchase of the higher-classification Triple-A Denver Zephyrs. After that, Benson helped brother Larry become principal owner of the San Antonio team in the WLAF, and in the meantime founded the Voodoo Arena football league team, which he quickly gave up on. He successful brokered the naming rights deal for the Mercedes-Benzon Superdome, where all those Final Fours, BCS Championships and Super Bowls will be played.
In the final analysis, two truly admirable elements stick out about the Benson purchase of the Hornets. First, with the possible exception of his Katrina flirtation with San Antonio, Benson is again taking an action that protects his home town. Keeping the Hornets here will be much easier with a local owner. Second, Benson shows no sign of fading to the background, despite his relative silence during Bountygate. He is still boogeying at 85, and he deserves applause for that fact alone.
by J.W. Miller, former New Orleans Saints Exec. VP