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Don't Let The Screen Door Hit You. . 

All this bellyaching over the loss of the Hornets makes me want to throw up. Can no one see that the team we won in the late 1980s isn't the same team we just lost?

There was a time when the National Basketball Association was a viable business that could still survive on only minimal taxpayer extortion. That was back when its product was popular enough with fans across the nation that folks didn't mind forking over tens of millions of dollars for new arenas.

If the Hornets are any example, these teams now expect -- no, demand hundreds of millions of dollars for new arenas plus operating subsidies from the public dole for a product that, quite frankly, isn't worth the money -- a product capable of only attracting 5,000 to 10,000 fans during regular season in this market. I've been to antique fairs that are more exciting and attract more people than that. Heck, the bars and clubs uptown do better than that on any given Saturday night. Think about this, folks. It's so bad that the NBA isn't even expanding in this country any more, but must go overseas to find a crowd still charged up about its product.

As the history of how we lost this team is rewritten, people are beginning to blame the Charlotte City Council for the loss of the team. I don't. If anything, Charlotte has been a national leader in the race to capitulate to the incessant demands of the league. City leaders stayed in the fight when team owner Ray Wooldridge literally stood them up, delayed the transmission of information to push the city up against a negotiating deadline to gain better leverage, changed the rules of the game without warning, lied about whether the team was negotiating with another city, and lied about the team's intentions to stay here. But even then, city leaders weren't willing to give up. Had the NBA let them, they would have stabbed taxpayers and voters in the back to build this team an arena, even after the overwhelming defeat of the referendum. For all their efforts, NBA leaders mocked them in our community's print and broadcast media.

New Orleans didn't win itself a team, it paid an over-inflated price for a depreciating asset out of which we had already gotten the best years. If this is the NBA's long-term survival strategy, its days will be limited and Charlotte, not New Orleans, will have the last laugh.

Time will prove that Charlotte will survive, and quite frankly be better off without the team -- and without the massive bills for the full cost of an arena plus the operating subsidies the team inevitably would have had to demand to survive in this market.

The little-known truth about our current arena is that it was never truly profitable. Revenues it generated may have kept other city venues running -- but it took taxpayer money, not money generated by the team or the day-to-day operations of the arena -- to pay off the final cost of the building because the arena didn't make enough money to do both. In business, where taxpayer dollars aren't available to pay mortgages on factories and office buildings, that would be called a loss.

But even with a dollar-for-dollar loss, the first round was well worth it. Charlotte subsidized a national basketball team and for a relatively cheap price picked up name recognition it otherwise never would have gained. City leaders are right when they say the team, which played with the Queen City's name emblazoned across its jerseys for more than a decade, finally bought our city a place in the collective consciousness of America.

But Charlotte shouldn't be solely dependent on having our name on the jerseys of a failing team in a failing league to keep it there. It's time Charlotte earned the name the Hornets bought us. It's time we became something real. Had all the civic time and energy we sank into saving this flailing team gone into aggressively recruiting businesses -- real businesses -- and building business sectors, we'd have something worthwhile to show for it.

The city council can build all the minor league baseball stadiums they want, and while that will benefit the community economically, it won't make Charlotte the superpower they desperately want it to be. Even if we mortgage ourselves to the hilt, Charlotte will never be an international tourism destination unless it becomes an international business destination first. The window of opportunity for that to happen is still open. But with the possibility of taxes rapidly rising at the state and county levels, and our schools in disarray, it is closing fast.

The goal should be simple and we must not lose focus of it: to never be dependent for survival, or our place in the world, on one team, one business or one business sector. That's what makes a city great. Straight up, boring fiscal diversity, a bullish financial dependability upon which all the more whimsical amusements that come with time can be built. Without it, over time the city will stagnate, and no amount of subsidized entertainment will stop that.

So let the Hornets go. It's time to run lean, and the team had grown fat. Good riddance to bad rubbish.*

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