- Associated Press - Friday, April 13, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - The NBA has agreed to sell the New Orleans Hornets to Saints owner Tom Benson for $338 million, said a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press Friday on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced. The sale of the team to Benson has to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors, which is meeting in New York on Friday.

The NBA has been trying to sell the Hornets since making the unprecedented move to buy the club from founder George Shinn in December 2010. While preparing the team for sale, the league negotiated a new lease for the Hornets to remain in the state-owned New Orleans Arena through 2024. The lease agreement also called for $50 million in improvements to the basketball stadium, which sits right across the street from the Superdome.

The framework of ownership negotiations were handled in a way that a new Hornets owner would have to accept the lease worked out between the NBA and Gov. Bobby Jindal. Once the NBA approves the sale of the team to Benson, the next step is for the state Legislature to approve the arena lease deal because of the funding needed for stadium improvements. But legislative leaders already have publicly voiced support for the proposed lease deal, which would take effect in July.

The 84-year-old Benson, a New Orleans-native, has owned the Saints since 1985 and helped bring the franchise its first Super Bowl title in 2010. His ownership means the two small-market franchises will both be locally owned and now can work as partners in their efforts to attract corporate sponsorships.

The Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002, but have often been on shaky ground since, including when the club spent two full seasons in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of southeast Louisiana in August 2005.

In 2010, former owner George Shinn decided to pull out. He was unable to find a buyer who would commit to keeping the team in New Orleans, so the NBA took the unprecedented step of taking ownership of the team and has been working to find a new permanent local owner for a year-and-a-half.

As part of the effort to attract a new owner, team officials spent the past offseason conducting an unusual campaign to build the club’s season-ticket base to 10,000, which the league considers a benchmark for successful franchises. The campaign involved social mixers in the homes of prominent business people in the region.

The team also attracted more major corporate sponsors for the 2011-12 season than it had ever had since moving to the Big Easy.

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.