NEW ORLEANS, La. (WGNO) — At halftime of tonight’s Pelicans game, former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial and other local leaders are being honored for bringing professional basketball back to the Crescent City.

New Orleans went 23 years without an NBA team until the Charlotte Hornets franchise moved here in 2002.

Former mayor Marc Morial was a Louisiana state senator when the so-called sports package was born.

It was funding for several projects, including Zephyr Field and the New Orleans arena.

The arena opened in 1999 and two and a half years later, New Orleans had an NBA team.

“We built with the philosophy that build it, and they will come. And, it turned out to be a moon shot and a bit of risk, but when you are an underdog, you have to throw deep, you have to shoot a three-point shot, and that’s what we did with the building of the arena,” says former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

In 1996, Morial met with then-NBA commissioner David Stern, who told the mayor, to build an arena and find an ownership group.

Morial and a host of civic leaders did. Charlotte had rebuffed George Shinn’s request for a new building.

Louisiana had one for $110 million, a bargain price.

At the time there were arenas being built in the United States that were much more expensive. And, I think we got a good facility, for 110 (million) at the time, now its important to upgrade it. You have to continue to invest in these facilities to make sure they remain competitive,” says Morial.

Morial says he’s in favor of renovating the current Smoothie King Center.

He said the sports complex, including the dome, works well together.

Morial said a glistening arena makes it possible for New Orleans to be in a rotation to host the NBA All-Star game.

“If we are on par to get that game every seven, eight years, we have to have a facility to be able to do that,” says Morial.

Morial is a huge NBA fan, watching games in several cities, including New York where he currently resides.

He said he plans to be back in the city of New Orleans in May and June for playoff basketball.

“When we moved the team, we said we want to bring an NBA championship to New Orleans,” says Morial.

20 years such talk seemed far-fetched – no longer.

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