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Wednesday, June 19
Belkin's potential ownership group includes Bird, Carr

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Potential franchise owner Steve Belkin said he will meet with the NBA on Thursday to discuss bringing an expansion team to Charlotte, a process he said must be completed in 90 days.

Belkin, a Boston-area businessman, spent Wednesday with Charlotte city leaders shoring up details of his proposal. He will now present it to the NBA and attempt to get the league to approve his bid by September so a new Charlotte team could begin playing by the 2003-04 season.

"The NBA has qualified us as a potential franchise owner, but many things have to happen in the next 90 days to make it happen,'' Belkin said before the Charlotte Sting played the Washington Mystics in a WNBA game.

"There are time constraints and if it can't happen, I think it reduces the probability that Charlotte will be a future franchise city because other cities will step up. Right now, Charlotte is the lead city.''

Belkin is head of the group trying to bring the NBA back to Charlotte that includes Hall of Famer Larry Bird and former Celtics coach M.L. Carr. The city had an NBA team for 14 seasons, but the Hornets moved to New Orleans last month.

The city had been a good basketball town for much of the Hornets' stay, but fans soured on ownership, leading to the relocation even as city leaders worked to secure a new arena.

"The NBA was really impressed with the presentation Charlotte officials made to keep the Hornets,'' Belkin said. "They felt badly the franchise was moving and the NBA, I think, would like to concentrate on Charlotte as an expansion city.''

Belkin estimated his chances of bringing a team to Charlotte at ''60 percent'' and hoped to get specific criteria from the league as to what he had to do to make it happen.

Already working against him is the time frame he's set and a second potential ownership group led by Bob Sturges, a minority owner of the Miami Heat.

But Belkin has put himself on the fast track with Carr, who would handle community relations for the NBA team. Carr has already relocated to Charlotte and taken an active role as president of the Sting.

Bird, who would be the director of basketball operations, is also planning to move to Charlotte and is scheduled to meet with city leaders on July 1.

The biggest obstacle any group faces is securing a new arena, which the NBA says is imperative to approving a Charlotte franchise.

The Hornets played in the Charlotte Coliseum, an outdated facility that lacked revenue-bringing luxury suites. When Hornets owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge lost their bid for a new uptown arena, they began their quest to move the franchise.

The city council has already earmarked $80 million in future hotel/motel tax money for a new arena and will hold it until the NBA gives the city some direction on its chances for an expansion team.

Belkin said in order for any deal to work, he must simultaneously secure a new arena deal while he's working with the NBA. Ideally, a new team would play in the Coliseum for the first two years while a new building was built.

But he's positive he has only 90 days to make it all happen and if he or any other group fail, Belkin was doubtful the NBA would ever return to Charlotte.

"There's a lot of momentum right now and if we don't seize the moment, the NBA is going to take a step back,'' Belkin said.