George Shinn answered his phone with “hello,” and I responded with a hearty “George Shinn.”
Shinn trumped my enthusiasm.
“Berry Tramel! I'd recognize that voice anywhere. How are you doing, my lad?”
Who else calls me lad? Ol' George never was one of the NBA's more sophisticated owners, but he always was on the high side of charm.
And that hasn't changed.
As Oklahoma City revels in the Thunder making the NBA Finals, an old friend chimed in congratulations.
Shinn, who brought his refugee Hornets here in 2005 for two memorable seasons that forever changed our city, sent a letter to The Oklahoman, saluting the “wonderful people” of Oklahoma, Thunder chairman Clay Bennett and his organization on reaching the Finals. We're printing the letter in this sports section.
Shinn took the Hornets back to New Orleans in summer 2007, then sold his beloved franchise in 2010 because of health (cancer) concerns and financial problems.
Bennett brought the Thunder here in summer 2008, and the Hornets quickly became a distant memory. But what fun they were. Shinn's Hornets provided great entertainment and a team that played hard, and we fell for this sport long before any of us ever had heard of Kevin Durant.
So it was good to chat with Shinn on Friday.
“You guys are very fortunate and very blessed,” Shinn said. “I couldn't be happier for you. I think it's just absolutely wonderful. Something I chased for over 20 years in my life, and I never even made it to the (conference) finals. It's tough. It's tough. So hats off to the boys from OKC.”
These days, Shinn splits his time between a home in Nashville, where his sons live, and Durango, Colo.
Says he doesn't really miss the NBA.
“I'm staying busy,” Shinn said. “I'm doing a lot of work trying to help people, doing a lot of speaking and preaching. I'm working with ministers.
“Going through this cancer scare, I'm healthy right now, thank God. The Lord had looked after me all these years. It's time for me to give back.”
But Shinn says he misses the people, and that includes Bennett, who over the years has been his business partner and fellow owner and sometimes adversary.
Bennett put together the corporate support that made the Hornets successful here. He tried to buy into the Hornets but never could reach agreement with Shinn – Bennett wanted at least 51 percent; Shinn offered nothing more than 49.
Shinn said he's since told Bennett it was a mistake not to sell to the Oklahoma interests. “In retrospect, that would have been a very smart business decision,” Shinn said. “But at the time, it wasn't to be.”
Instead, Bennett's group bought the Seattle SuperSonics, moved the franchise to OKC and now the NBA Finals are days away from Reno Avenue.
“He's got a great supporting group of owners that work with him and support him,” Shinn said. “He's got an incredible setup.
“The ownership has done an incredible job with the players. Your franchise player's (Durant) not only an incredible athlete, he's an incredible guy. Young, got his head set, likes it there. A lot of things are clicking.
“So I see a pretty long run for you guys. I really do. And I hope it happens.”
Shinn would like to come back to a game sometime. Can't make it to the NBA Finals – “I'm betting you have to shoot somebody to get a ticket” – but sometime next season. Mainly to see the people.
“The people we met was just outstanding,” Shinn said. “Some of the finest people we've ever met. The fans were absolutely incredible.”
Shinn said he still communicates with Bennett. “I told Clay I was so proud of him,” Shinn said. “‘You've done what people in small markets have tried to do for a long time. You've done it with class.'”
If it's OK with everyone, Shinn wants to jump on the bandwagon. Wants to feel like he's part of the fairy tale.
I say welcome aboard.
“I know it's crazy there, because it was crazy when we were there,” Shinn said. “I just wanted everybody to know I'm pulling for 'em. Wishin' 'em the best.
“They have something to be really proud of. Just great dreams from here on.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.