Charlotte Hornets

Hall-of-Famer Alonzo Mourning: I never wanted to leave Hornets; ex-owner recalls otherwise

Former Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn speaking with stars Larry Johnson (left) and Alonzo Mourning (right) in 1994.
Former Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn speaking with stars Larry Johnson (left) and Alonzo Mourning (right) in 1994. Observer File Photo

Basketball Hall-of-Famer Alonzo Mourning says he never wanted to leave Charlotte, and would have taken less in salary to remain with the Hornets in 1995.

The team’s owner at the time, George Shinn, says he offered Mourning more money than then-Hornets star Larry Johnson made, and the most money an NBA player was offered at the time.

Mourning, 47, was in Charlotte Thursday for the Hooptee charity golf tournament at The Golf Club at Ballantyne. Mourning has a good relationship with current Hornets management, particularly team president Fred Whitfield, who hosted Thursday’s event. The franchise honored Mourning at halftime of a home game in February.

Still, 22 years after the trade to the Miami Heat, Mourning refers to Shinn as “that man.”

“I never wanted to leave Charlotte, but the business of basketball got in the way of that,” Mourning told the Observer.

“It was a man who had his own intentions. That’s George Shinn. He wanted to do what he wanted to do. The priority wasn’t keeping the team together. If the priority would have been keeping the team together, he would have made the investment.”

Shinn, now semi-retired in Franklin, Tenn., sold the Hornets to the NBA in 2010. Shinn disputed Mourning’s description of his departure in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

“Obviously, he and I have two different memories of that,” said Shinn. “We offered him more than Larry Johnson (who had signed a 12-year, $84 million contract in 1993.) It was the largest amount in the NBA at the time.

“We just knew that would do it. But he said this was a small market, and he needed to make more in a larger market.”

Shinn said the meeting with Mourning and agent David Falk became so contentious that then-general manager Bob Bass left the room and soon began looking for a trade to salvage value from drafting Mourning second overall in 1992.

Mourning, a seven-time All-Star before he retired in 2008, was traded to the Heat at the outset of the 1995-96 season. He was packaged with LeRon Ellis and Pete Myers in a deal that acquired Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, Khalid Reeves and a 1996 first-round pick.

That was the end of the LJ-Zo-Muggsy Bogues era that was so popular it inspired a mural in uptown Charlotte. Shinn moved the original Hornets to New Orleans in 2002. The NBA awarded an expansion team to Charlotte that became the current Hornets.

Mourning, now the Heat’s vice president for player programs, is arguably the greatest player in Charlotte NBA history, which started in 1988. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in the summer of 2014 after averaging 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds over a 15-season career.

Mourning was adamant in his comments to the Observer that it was Shinn, not him, responsible for his departure for the Heat.

“He really didn’t feel at the time that I was worth those dollars. At that time, I was willing to take less money to stay because I loved it so much,” Mourning said.

“Unfortunately, he said I wasn’t worth it. I’m a 23-year-old guy (at the time), I didn’t know any better. So, I had to accept the counsel of my agent and do what was best for me.”

Spencer Stolpen, Hornets president at the time, told the Observer on Thursday that Mourning was offered $111 million guaranteed at what was intended to be a career contract. From Stolpen’s recollection, the contract would have covered 10 years.

The Heat re-signed Mourning in the summer of 1996 for $105 million over seven seasons, the Washington Post reported.

Shinn said the negotiations got beyond what he could afford, particularly in a small market such as Charlotte.

“Did we want to get rid of one of the best players in the league? Of course not,” Shinn said. “Nobody loved Mourning more than we did…but you can’t approach these things just with emotion. You’ve got to use business sense.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell