Shinn was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina and was a poor student growing up, graduating last in his high school class of 293 from A. L. Brown High School. He went on to Evans Business College in Concord, North Carolina.
Shinn worked in a textile mill, a car wash and as a school janitor. Upon graduating from Evans, he raised money and bought the school and other small colleges that offered 18-24 month programs, consolidating them all under the umbrella company Rutledge Education Systems. He sold the schools and bought the basketball team with the proceeds.
The George Shinn Foundation was founded in 1973. Its mission was to provide need-based scholarships for deserving students. In 2011, George and his wife, Denise, moved the family and the foundation to Nashville. Today, Foundation funds are used to educate others on the importance of early testing and diagnosis of prostate cancer (Shinn is a prostate cancer survivor). Other Foundation initiatives include the establishment and support program for students at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, North Carolina, which prepares students for ministry and assisting with an ongoing school/orphanage/church project in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre, Haiti. In 2012, the George Shinn Foundation was able to provide funding to complete a multi-story medical clinic, which will provide medical care to the community surrounding the Amer-Haitian Bon Zami House of Hope. Hoops for Homes was created by the Shinn Foundation directly following Hurricane Katrina to rebuild homes in the New Orleans community. The project impacted funding and repairs for more than 65 homes. George Shinn has most recently partnered with Nashville non-profit, Room In the Inn, and donated more than 60 pairs of shoes during the 2012 holiday season. Room In the Inn is a ministry serving the homeless.
Denise Shinn serves as the Foundation's president.
Awards and Honors 2009 – Weiss Award (New Orleans Council for Community and Justice) 2009 – American Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year (New Orleans chapter)
He is the author of a half dozen books including The Miracle of Motivation, The American Dream Still Works and You Gotta Believe! The Story of the Charlotte Hornets.
Shinn was accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a Charlotte woman.
Shinn had a trial for a sexual assault claim in December 1999 that the jury rejected, but he admitted in court to having two sexual relationships outside his marriage. The trial was broadcast nationwide on Court TV and drew some of the cable network's highest ratings at the time.
The trial and his subsequent tarnished reputation was one of the key reasons for the move from Charlotte to New Orleans.
Shinn hasn't returned to Charlotte since the Hornets left for New Orleans in 2002. In a 2008 interview with the Charlotte Observer, Shinn admitted that the drama over his personal life was a factor in the Hornets leaving town. He also said that if he'd had it to do all over again, he would not have withdrawn from public view as he had after the sexual assault trial.
In April 2010, Shinn started considering selling his majority share of the Hornets to Gary Chouest, who had bought 25% of the team. The negotiations stalled due to the team's financial issues. Because Shinn was not in a financial position to continue to run the team, the NBA was expected to purchase and run the team while looking for a local owner. The NBA completed their purchase of the Hornets from George Shinn and Gary Chouest in December 2010 for an estimated $300 million.
Shinn has three children from a previous marriage and is currently married to Denise, whom he met at a Charlotte game. One of his children is Chris Shinn, was lead singer of the rock band Live from March 2012 until December 2016. In November 2009 Shinn announced he had prostate cancer. By March 2010, after several months of treatment, he announced he was cancer-free.
In 2010 the former New Orleans Hornets owner had an estimated net worth of $100 million.