Orange County Business Journal

OC Bidder for NBA Team in New Orleans

Kari Hamanaka Friday, February 24, 2012

The founder of Orange County’s largest swimwear maker has the leading bid to buy the New Orleans Hornets basketball team, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Raj Bhathal, co-founder of Tustin-based Raj Manufacturing LLC and a resident of Big Canyon in Newport Beach, is reportedly leading a group of investors that includes Larry Benson. Benson’s brother, Tom Benson, owns the New Orleans Saints football team.

Raj Manufacturing makes and sells swimsuits under its own brands and through licenses with Irvine-based St. John Knits International Inc., Guess Inc. of Los Angeles and New York-based PVH Corp.’s Tommy Hilfiger Group, among others.

The Hornets are owned by the National Basketball Association, which paid about $320 million for the struggling franchise in late 2010. The NBA has reportedly selected two finalists among bidders for the team with Bhathal’s group holding exclusive rights on negotiations for an undetermined period.

A deal could be come as early as next week, according to reports.

It wouldn’t be Bhatal’s first foray into sports. He owned the Orlando Thunder football franchise of the World League of American Football, a onetime spring league aimed at bringing American professional football to Europe.

Bhathal started Raj Manufacturing with his wife Marta more than 40 years ago. The Bhathals sold a majority interest in the company to San Francisco-based private equity firm Swander Pace Capital but kept a family stake.

Their children, Alex Bhathal and Lisa Bhathal Vogel, now run Raj Manufacturing as co-presidents.

Raj Manufacturing has $130 million in annual sales, according to a Business Journal estimate.