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Tue, 12.17.2002

The First Black American Becomes Owner of a Major American Sports Franchise

Robert Johnson

On this date in 2002, Robert Johnson became the owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Charlotte Hornets.  This made Johnson, 56, the league's first Black majority owner and the first Black owner in major professional sports. Johnson is the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET).

The league announced its decision at a news conference the following day in New York. Bertram Lee and Peter Bynoe were thought to be the league's first Black ownership in 1989 when they purchased the Denver Nuggets, but it was later learned that Comsat Video actually owned 62.5 percent of the team. Johnson and the other group seeking to buy the team, headed by Boston businessman Steve Belkin and Celtics great Larry Bird, made presentations to the league's expansion committee earlier that week.

In 2001, Forbes magazine estimated Johnson's wealth at $1.3 billion in early 2002, making him the first Black billionaire on the magazine's list of richest Americans.

The franchise team began playing in the 2004-05 season and replaced the Hornets, who had moved to New Orleans earlier.

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