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  1. Default Christmas Stories

    CHRISTMAS STORIES

    From the Miami Herald, http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald...s/13483158.htm
    Hornets, House top the feel-good stories
    By Israel Gutierrezigutierrez@herald.com

    It's Christmas, and because nothing about Heat-Lakers or Pistons-Spurs says warm and fuzzy, it'll take a deeper look around the league to find those story lines that make you feel good.

    HUGGABLE HORNETS: No team seemed more set up to fail this season than the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. They had no home (or too many homes, depending on how you look at it), with Hurricane Katrina forcing them to relocate to Oklahoma City and still play a handful of games in Baton Rouge, La. They have no stars, with Baron Davis having been dealt away last season and Jamaal Magloire moved just before this season began. And they had no identity, with a group of young players, plus P.J. Brown, just waiting to see what becomes of each other.
    Rather than accept their seemingly predetermined fate, the Hornets have become a respectable force in the league, already notching wins over the Timberwolves, Nuggets, 76ers, Suns and Spurs. Chris Paul already has proven to be the best rookie of this season's class and is quickly climbing the ladder to elite point-guard status. And young guns J.R. Smith, David West and Speedy Claxton are turning into very nice pieces on a team with potential.
    ''With the kick in the gut they got early this year, they just ignored it,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Hornets. 'They could have cried, `Poor me,' but they've played like champions. When you consider what they've done, they deserve double credit.''
    From the NO Times-Picayune at http://www.nola.com/sports/t-p/index...6416104220.xml
    Shinn watching verbal turnovers
    Sunday, December 25, 2005
    John Reid

    OKLAHOMA CITY -- Hornets owner George Shinn is finding out he'd better be careful what he says in the temporary home of his franchise.

    Anything that comes across as a hint of what he may be thinking regarding the future of his franchise could be misinterpreted as something totally different from what he meant.

    Such was the case last week when a published report indicated that Shinn planned to solicit investors in Oklahoma City. After learning of the report, Shinn quickly denied it, saying a New York-based investment company is providing a national search to find limited partners, and he doesn't care where they come from, just as long as he's able to pay off more than $60 million in debt incurred in last year's buyout of minority owner Ray Wooldridge, who owned a 35 percent share of the team.

    To calm the storm, Shinn has been on the radio in New Orleans and has granted several other interviews mainly to say nothing has changed regarding the status of his team. The league will decide by the end of January or early February if the Hornets will return to New Orleans next season or remain in Oklahoma City.

    Long term, Shinn continues to say when New Orleans comes back with its recovery efforts, "We'll come back."

    One thing is certain, it's time for the league to make a decision, whether it includes playing a split schedule between New Orleans and Oklahoma City next season or determining the long-term future of the franchise.

    If there are guarantees the franchise can sell a certain percentage of season tickets, starting in 2006, then the Hornets should come back.

    Even though the Hornets ranked last in attendance last season, they had the second-worst record in the league at 18-64 and were 2-29 at the end of December and on their third head coach in three seasons. I wonder what the crowds in New Orleans would be like this season if there had been no Hurricane Katrina, with rookie point guard Chris Paul emerging as a superstar as he's done so far. The Hornets probably would have been in the middle of the pack in attendance rankings.
    Associated Press story reported at http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Basketball...366389-ap.html and http://www.sportsline.com/nba/story/9114617 and http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/200....okla.city.ap/ , and at least 10 other places around the country
    Hornets reach out to Oklahoma City

    By JEFF LATZKE

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A Santa Claus hat atop his head, George Shinn set off to shake hands and make sure his hungry neighbours had enough to eat on a cold, snowy day.

    At a Christmas dinner he provided for hundreds of senior citizens, the New Orleans Hornets owner soon became a celebrity, pausing for photographs and even signing autographs.

    The next day at the City Rescue Mission, he was bending down to help a man try on one of 300 pairs of new shoes he had donated for clients of the homeless shelter.

    Since their move to Oklahoma City in October, events like the turkey dinner and shoe giveaway have become commonplace for the Hornets as they attempt to build a relationship with citizens of their temporary home.

    Some events are a carry-over from the team's days in New Orleans and, before that, Charlotte - while others, such as a purple and teal bookmobile that will visit dozens of schools to give away books, are new to Oklahoma City.

    On top of that, Shinn encourages his players to find ways to give back. Chris Paul bought 50 bicycles to give away to children and J.R. Smith handed out 100 gift cards at Wal-Mart as part of eight straight days of Hornets holiday events.

    "If you do that, the community feels like you're part of their community and they want to support you," Shinn said.

    And support they have. In 10 games at Oklahoma City's Ford Center, the Hornets have recorded five sellouts and rank among the NBA leaders in attendance. Their last home game against the Spurs attracted 19,267 fans, a record for any sporting event at the arena.

    Excluding a half-full home game at Baton Rouge, the Hornets' average attendance of 18,669 this season ranks seventh out of the 30 NBA teams. And none of the 10 crowds would have fit in the 17,200-seat New Orleans Arena, where the team drew a league-low 14,221 fans per game last season.

    Shinn said the outreach isn't intended to sell more tickets. In fact, many of the events are aimed at people who may never attend a single game.

    "I grew up dirt poor and my mom always told me, particularly after I started reaching a certain level of success in my life, she always reminded me, 'Don't ever forget to help other people, because if you hadn't been helped you wouldn't be where you are,"' he said.

    Still, he believes the Hornets have reaped rewards from their projects.

    "From a business standpoint, it's always benefited me," Shinn said. "The more I give, the more I get back."

    In addition to the charity events, the Hornets have started an In the Heart of OKC advertising campaign with television spots featuring Paul and coach Byron Scott, more than 20 radio ads, and components for direct mail and newspapers.

    "It's an ad campaign that speaks not only to where we play right downtown in the heart of Oklahoma City, but ultimately where we hope to be in the hearts of fans in Oklahoma City," team spokesman Michael Thompson said.

    The Hornets haven't forsaken New Orleans, though. The team and the NBA Players Association combined with Feed the Children this month to send a caravan of food to 8,800 people affected by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. An initiative with Habitat for Humanity is building new homes for those displaced by Katrina.

    All that is on top of the efforts in Oklahoma City, where Smith was not only passing out gift cards but encouraging those children to be generous and use them on presents for their families. The second-year guard said it's easy to tell that locals are appreciative.

    "They smile from ear to ear," Smith said. "It makes us feel more at home when you see people smiling and they're so happy to see you. It makes you feel good."

    It's impossible to know how big a factor the Hornets' deeds have been in how Oklahoma City has embraced the team, but Paul said that's not the reason players have reached out to locals so often.

    "I hope they appreciate it, but at the same time it's not about that," Paul said. "It's about just giving back."
    And, about Assistant Coach Darrell Walker, from the Little Rock Morning News, http://www.nwaonline.net/articles/20...01azwalker.txt
    Former UA Star Doing A-OK In OKC

    By Ryan Aber
    The Morning News

    OKLAHOMA CITY --Basketball has taken Darrell Walker a lot of places.

    It took him from his Chicago high school to Fort Smith, where he played a season for what was then Westark Community College. It carried him to Fayetteville where he was a standout for three seasons for the University of Arkansas. Then onto NBA stops in New York, Denver, Washington, Detroit and back to his hometown of Chicago as a player. As a coach, he's been to Toronto, Rockford, Ill., Washington and New Orleans.

    One place he didn't expect to land was Oklahoma City.

    He had no roots in the town. There weren't any professional teams playing in the city --the CBA left years ago --and there weren't even any major college programs in the city which would be a logical step for a coach who had head coaching experience in the NBA.

    But that's where he is now, after Hurricane Katrina forced the New Orleans Hornets, who hired Walker in July, 2004, to find a temporary home in Oklahoma City.

    Although Walker played in 720 NBA games spanning 10 seasons, many of the current Hornets players know him primarily for the last 28.

    Walker finished his career in 1993, after helping Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to their third straight World Championship. Walker was released earlier that season by the Pistons, but signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Bulls before signing for the remainder of the season.

    "Everybody knows Michael Jordan," said forward P.J. Brown, by far the oldest player on the Hornets roster. "He probably is the most recognizable athlete that's been around the last 25 years. A lot of guys know he played with Michael Jordan and guys know what Michael Jordan brought to the floor --his intensity, his work ethic. For Darrell to be there and to see it, he can tell it just like it is.

    "That's one thing about him, he doesn't pull no punches. What's on his mind and what he sees, he lets you know. He's been there and he knows what it's all about."

    Walker has jumped around quite a bit both as a player and a coach, being part of nine organizations in the NBA, WNBA and CBA since he was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1983.

    After being hired by the Hornets as an assistant coach a little less than two months after New Orleans hired Byron Scott to take over for the fired Tim Floyd, Walker thought he had some stability.

    He was looking forward to his second season in New Orleans, a seven-hour drive or a quick flight from his home in Little Rock, when Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets to leave New Orleans, their home for just three years.

    So Walker was moved even closer to his family in Little Rock and friends and familiar places in Fayetteville and Fort Smith.

    He's planning on making his first trip since the preseason back into Arkansas today when he returns to Little Rock for Christmas. On his way from New Orleans to Little Rock to Oklahoma City before the season, Walker stopped into what is now the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith where he starred when the school was known as Westark before moving on to Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.

    "Oklahoma City is great," Walker said. "It's close to (UAFS). I'm hoping to maybe sneak out and catch a couple games sometime.

    "But it's been great here, the atmosphere's been great, the fans have been great, the people have been great. It's been a good move for us."

    The Hornets, who averaged 14,221 fans per game last season in New Orleans, are proving to be a big draw in Oklahoma City. In 10 games in Oklahoma City, the Hornets are averaging 18,669, seventh in the league.

    Although he hasn't had a chance to go to Fayetteville, Walker still keeps tabs on the Razorbacks. He watched Arkansas' loss to Maryland on television in the Maui Invitational earlier this season.

    "I've been hearing good things about Ronnie Brewer," Walker said. "I knew he would be a player when I was scouting a couple years ago. I knew he would be a player.

    "It seems like Stan (Heath) has done a good job of recruiting. Hopefully Frank Broyles and his crew up there will let him stay there and continue to win some games and keep building."

    When Walker's Razorbacks career ended, he was seventh on the all-time Arkansas scoring list with 1,325 points. Today, he stands 16th.

    Walker's playing experience has earned him instant credibility with the Hornets' young players.

    "He's played for a lot of great coaches in this league," Brown said. "So he's had valuable experience that goes beyond a lot of other things. He just knows so much.

    "It's good to talk to him because he's kind of like an old-school guy and I'm an old-school guy. I'm not as old as he is but we were pretty close."

    Brown said much has changed since his NBA playing career started, about the same time Walker's was ending.

    "The league is a lot younger," he said. "Back when (Walker) was playing and probably when I came in, it was more older, veteran guys. Now the league is a lot younger with a lot of guys coming out of school early and ... they come from situations where you're in high school, AAU, there's not a lot of structure, not a lot of discipline, not a lot of direction."

    Perhaps no NBA team is more evidence of the league's bent toward younger players than the Hornets. Brown is 36, but no other player on the team is older than Desmond Mason's 28. Four players currently on the roster are rookies four others with two years or less of professional experience.

    One of the league's young stars, though, is one of the Hornets rookies, former Wake Forest standout Chris Paul.

    Brown said Paul is evidence that playing in college and staying there for a few years pays off.

    "You go to quality programs, play for quality coaches, they're going to instill those values of responsibility and maturity," Brown said. "A lot of guys are missing that. It just takes time for these young guys to grow up and really learn the facts of life."

    Walker believes the Hornets have a solid nucleus to build around with Paul and J.R. Smith among others.

    "We thought with the addition of Chris Paul, that he would make a lot of people on our team better, and that's what he's done," Walker said. "He's made us a better basketball team. He's very unselfish and very much an NBA pro off and on the court. He's a coach's dream.

    "We're still two or three players away but we're a lot better than we were last year for sure."

    In Walker's first season with the Hornets, New Orleans finished 18-64, 41 games behind Southwest Division winner and eventual NBA champ San Antonio.

    Heading into Friday night's game at Milwaukee, the Hornets had won 11 games and were just 2 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

    "We're going to need another big guy, there's no question about that," Walker said. "We're just looking at a lot of things. We've got a lot of holes to fill and (Hornets general manager) Jeff Bower is out there looking at players.

    "We've got to keep this ship going in the right direction, which it is going in the right direction, and Chris Paul is a big part of that."

    After beating the Clippers in early December, Walker looked over at the other locker room and saw a team that could serve as a model for the Hornets in their quest to build the franchise back to what it was before moving from Charlotte to New Orleans.

    "They've had a lot of high draft picks over there that are finally coming into their own," Walker said. "And they've waited it out and I think we're doing the same thing. We're going in the right direction. We're going to have another pick, two picks in the first round next year and we'll just see what happens."
    Merry Christmas, my OkcTalk Hornets Fans chums! And, even more, here’s hoping for a Happy New Year!

  2. Default Re: Christmas Stories

    Merry Christmas Doug! I love how the Hornets continue to give to the community even with a packed house and record breaking attendance .... thanks for sharing...
    " You've Been Thunder Struck ! "

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