View Full Version : Last minute deal moves SuperSonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City

07-03-2008, 12:52 PM
Last-minute deal lets Sonics move to Oklahoma City
By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer
Yahoo! News (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news;_ylt=AiXPsNagdYZHOlZT4DyAhEQ5nYcB?slug=ap-supersonics-seattletrial&prov=ap&type=lgns)
2 hours, 4 minutes ago

SEATTLE (AP)—Clay Bennett finally found a dollar amount that would sever his contentious relationship with the city of Seattle—$75 million.

As a result, the SuperSonics are headed to Oklahoma City with Bennett leading the way, leaving behind the team name, colors and 41 years of history.

Oklahoma City will have an NBA franchise for the 2008-09 season after a settlement announced Wednesday between the team and the city of Seattle, ending the clashing bond with the city that culminated in a six-day federal trial over terms of the team’s KeyArena lease. The judge was scheduled to rule Wednesday afternoon.

“We made it,” Bennett said after stepping to an Oklahoma City podium featuring the NBA logo and the letters OKC. “The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season.”

The settlement calls for Bennett and his Professional Basketball Club LLC to pay as much as $75 million to the city in exchange for the immediate termination of the lease. The team’s name and colors will be staying in Seattle.

Bennett said the move would start Thursday and the first focus would be on the SuperSonics’ players.

“In a perfect world I would have liked to see Clay Bennett leave, without the team at all,” said Steven Pyeatt, the co-founder of Save Our Sonics.

It’s a victory for Bennett, who purchased the Sonics in 2006 from Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz for $350 million, and will take the franchise to his hometown. Bennett faced harsh criticism in Seattle for his efforts in trying to build a new arena as a replacement for KeyArena, and the presumption he wanted to move the franchise all along.

“It was a tough experience for all of us that were involved in it. There was just so much that happened on both sides, so much misinterpreted, miscommunicated and misunderstood that it was difficult,” Bennett said.

Bennett announced that the settlement calls for a payment of $45 million immediately, and would include another $30 million paid to Seattle in 2013 if the state Legislature in Washington authorizes at least $75 million in public funding to renovate KeyArena by the end of 2009 and Seattle doesn’t obtain an NBA franchise of its own within the next five years.

The settlement could become a victory for Seattle as well. In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern reversed his previous stance and said that a renovated KeyArena could be a suitable venue for an NBA franchise in Seattle. But the time is short.

“We understand that city, county, and state officials are currently discussing a plan to substantially rebuild KeyArena for the sum of $300 million,” Stern said in a statement. “If this funding were authorized, we believe KeyArena could properly be renovated into a facility that meets NBA standards relating to revenue generation, fan amenities, team facilities, and the like.”

However, Stern added, “given the lead times associated with any franchise acquisition or relocation and with a construction project as complex as a KeyArena renovation, authorization of the public funding needs to occur by the end of 2009 in order for there to be any chance for the NBA to return to Seattle within the next five years.”

Bennett said he and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels signed a binding agreement Wednesday, which would be formalized later, that keeps the SuperSonics’ name, logo and colors available if Seattle gets a replacement franchise. Bennett said his franchise would create duplicate championship banners and trophies, leaving one set in Seattle and using the second set for undetermined purposes in Oklahoma City.

“We have 30 million reasons why we have support for a future NBA team,” Seattle city attorney Tom Carr said.

In April, the NBA Board of Governors approved Bennett’s application to move the team to Oklahoma City, pending the outcome of the trial between the team and the city. The settlement came six days after the trial concluded.

“A really exciting day. We had been gearing up for the 2010 season, and to find out the team’s coming two years early is a bonus,” Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett said.

The settlement doesn’t cover a pending lawsuit filed by Schultz, who is seeking to regain control of the team. Schultz claims that Bennett didn’t follow through on an agreement to negotiate in good faith for a new arena in Seattle for one full year before seeking relocation options.

“We believe it’s baseless, has no merit. We will fight it vigorously,” Bennett said of that lawsuit.

Schultz’s attorney, Richard Yarmuth said his client’s lawsuit will move forward. As part of the settlement, if the PBC is prevented from playing in Oklahoma City during the next two seasons because of Schultz’s lawsuit, the city will be required to repay Bennett’s group $22.5 million for each season. If the team is required to play in KeyArena for those two seasons, Bennett’s group is released from the additional $30 million it would owe the city.

"We’re not a party to this settlement and in fact we chose not to participate in it,” Yarmuth said.

The trial between the team and city was centered on the lease agreement that called for the Sonics to play at KeyArena through the 2009-10 season. Sonics lead attorney Brad Keller contended that Bennett should simply be able to write a check to satisfy the final two years of the lease. Keller argued that the “specific performance” clause the city rested its case on should not apply in a garden-variety dispute between tenant and landlord.

Bennett and his ownership group previously offered to pay the city $26.5 million in February to buy out the final two years of the lease. They were rebuffed.

Nickels noted that Wednesday’s settlement would cover lost rent, tax revenue and pay off the remaining debt on KeyArena.

“I believed all along enforcing our lease would allow us time to come to a better arrangement,” Nickels said. “We now have that deal.”

AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

07-03-2008, 05:57 PM
Sonics leave Seattle drenched, but in better shape
By Johnny Ludden, Yahoo! Sports

Give Seattle credit. The Emerald City stepped up and saved the Sonics. All six letters. For at least $45 million of Clay Bennett’s money, Seattle gets to keep “Sonics,” a box of uniforms and 41 years of basketball history. The rest of the franchise figures to be crated up and shipped to Oklahoma City in the coming weeks and months. Somewhere under all the duct tape and bubble wrap there just might be an actual basketball team.

For the better part of a year we’ve read about carpet-bagging owners, ambivalent politicians, arena proposals, lawsuits, slippery businessmen, incriminating emails and one dictatorial commissioner. It’s made for great theater, but little else. No one is rolling out of this mud pit looking pretty.

Bennett emerged as the Oklahoma rube who struck it rich, bought himself a new toy and ran off before letting anyone play with it. Art Modell can relax; America now has a new face for the disingenuous sports owner. Bennett and his fellow owners created one public-relations blunder after another, concluding with a series of embarrassing emails that revealed not only that they never had any intention of keeping the Sonics in Seattle, but also that Bennett had developed a bizarre infatuation with the NBA’s Great, Glorious Commissioner. If Bennett learned anything from this, it’s how to use the delete button on his keyboard.

David Stern’s Napolean act is also getting old. For years we’ve watched the commissioner threaten cities with relocation if they don’t build his owners new arenas. That’s part of the game. Always has been and always will. But in a season in which he had the Tim Donaghy scandal to clean up, would it have hurt Stern to show some compassion toward one of the NBA’s great towns? It’s not like the NBA’s relocation and expansion business is booming these days. The Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats continue to play in half-empty buildings.

As for Stern’s maybe-we’ll-come-back-if-you-act-nice promise? The NBA needs Seattle more than Seattle needs it.

Seattle’s gutless government leaders also should be embarrassed. They staged an elaborate public lawsuit, but rather than wait out the court’s ruling a few more hours – a ruling more than a few legal experts thought Seattle would win – they took the money and ran. At least they kept Squatch to work the office Christmas party.

Sonics fans, meanwhile, shouldn’t cling to hope of ex-owner Howard Schultz steering the team back to Seattle with his lawsuit. He’s the guy who created the mess by failing to invest enough in the franchise before selling it to Bennett. Lately, he’s struggled to run his own coffee shop. Does anyone truly think he’ll do any better in a courtroom?

Eventually, though, the news conferences will end, the ink will dry and the focus will return to the basketball court, and maybe that’s where Wednesday’s real winner can be found. Oklahoma City’s new NBA team likely won’t be much better in its rookie season than Seattle’s was in its last, but at least now there’s some clarity to its future.

Only the displaced New Orleans Hornets weathered more bizarre working conditions than the Sonics’ front-office and coaching staff did this season. At a time when most NBA teams are reassembling their rosters with free agents, Sonics officials spent Wednesday refreshing their web browsers to see if a U.S. district judge had determined where they would spent next season.

A little more than a year ago, Bennett plucked Sam Presti out of the San Antonio Spurs’ front office and charged him with creating a new culture for the Sonics. Defining the franchise’s culture, as Presti soon discovered, is easier when you have a permanent address.

Presti set about rebuilding the team around Kevin Durant and his first act was to trade Ray Allen. Sonics fans questioned whether that move – and nearly every other personnel decision the team has made since – were part of a grand conspiracy. If the Sonics’ owners really wanted to prove they couldn’t survive in Seattle, wouldn’t it help to strip the roster of its talent to dissuade interest? When Allen helped the Boston Celtics to the championship, Sonics supporters again had reason to wonder.

Though understandable, the skepticism was also misplaced. Allen is what he showed to be with the Celtics: an excellent complementary player. He is not a team leader, and his presence could have stunted Durant’s development as much as aided it. Instead, the Sonics have stuck to their plan, stockpiling draft picks and building for the future. Last week, they used the No. 4 pick on UCLA’s Russell Westbrook, a possible reach that high, but he also fits the profile the Sonics are creating: Hard worker and willing defender.

The decision to go young helps the franchise now. Veterans have more reason to question a relocation; they have families to move. With young players, you can roll out the ball in an empty gym and they’ll play.

The Sonics will have a honeymoon period in OKC. New teams always do. But there will still be challenges. Recruiting free agents is typically easier when you can say you’ve lived in the city you’re recruiting them to play. If Durant improves as much as the Sonics think he can, at some point he’ll likely hear the siren song of a bigger market. Oklahoma City can only hope he doesn’t listen.

Oklahoma won’t have much to watch if Durant doesn’t get better, if Presti doesn’t draft well, if coach P.J. Carlesimo doesn’t improve upon his own lost season and teach his youngsters how to defend. Still, Oklahoma can say it now has something to watch.

All Seattle has is a name.

07-04-2008, 09:06 AM
Oklahoma City gets ready to rejoin major leagues
By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Mayor Mick Cornett was in a conference room waiting for a meeting to get started when City Manager Jim Couch walked in and handed him a slip of paper with a single word on it: “Done.”

Cornett knew exactly what it meant. His city had just been called up to the major leagues.

The journey was a long one for Cornett, who grew up in Oklahoma City asking adults if there was any chance one of the major league teams he read about in the newspaper would locate in his hometown.

“It’s not going to happen. We’re just not big enough,” they would tell him. And until recently, that’s what he told his children.

After all, it was only a few years ago that Cornett visited NBA commissioner David Stern’s New York office and received good luck wishes—on attaining an NHL franchise, that is.

The city, which temporarily hosted the New Orleans Hornets for two seasons following Hurricane Katrina, finally got its first major league franchise of its own on Wednesday when SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett settled a lawsuit with the city of Seattle to clear the way to move the franchise to Oklahoma City.

“To sit here and think that we have suddenly been granted major league status is extraordinary,” Cornett said.

The work to get the NBA to Oklahoma City is anything but what was written on that slip of paper, though.

There are players and staff to move, along with all sorts of equipment. And there isn’t a home for any of it yet. Bennett said the team would have its offices downtown, although no official agreement is in place, and general manager Sam Presti will visit Oklahoma City soon to evaluate temporary practice facilities.

Eventually, the offices will be included in the renovated Ford Center and the team will have a brand new practice facility. The arena renovation and practice facility will cost $121 million and be paid for through a sales tax approved by city residents, and the team will have some say in the design.

Beyond that, there are new broadcast partners to be found and thousands of tickets to be sold. A naming rights agreement with Ford car dealerships will also need to be renegotiated.

“We’ve got to transition this business, we’ve got to take care of this team, we’ve got to get the Ford Center squared away. We’ve got to sell, sell, sell,” Bennett said.

The team was already taking down contact information for people interested in buying tickets, although numbers weren’t immediately available Thursday evening. There was enough response that a second phone line was set up to take calls Thursday.

Bennett said the “most important piece” of the organization was the players, and they would be the top priority. Presti and interim team president Danny Barth will oversee the relocation of the business operation. The Sonics have informally asked their approximately 125 Seattle-based employees whether they’d be interested in following the team.

“We did offer to them that if they wanted to make a move to Oklahoma, we would attempt to find a spot for them and we’re committed to that. It’s a long move, and I’m not sure how many will come,” Bennett said.

“We want to put together the best team we can. We will evaluate who wants to come, where they fit, how it works and then fill in from here. But we’ll have a significant hire from Oklahoma.”

Ford Center general manager Gary Desjardins said he had held 75 dates open in the event that the Sonics relocated, and the NBA had been creating two schedules—one assuming the team remained in Seattle, and the other preparing for a move.

He’s also trying to map out when the arena renovations—which include new suites, restaurants and clubs—can be done with the least impact on NBA and minor league hockey games, concerts and other events such as the Big 12 basketball tournament and NCAA tournament regionals.

Desjardins said the arena could be shut down for two months following the conclusion of the NBA season.

“There’ll probably be a good deal of work done during our slow time of year, which is usually the summertime,” Desjardins said.

Cornett said there’s only so much that can be accomplished before the NBA season starts in a few months.

“We can probably get some of the bunker suites taken care of, and I think we’ll work with the team on revenue enhancements and what changes could we make on a very short timeframe that would have the biggest impact?” Cornett said.

To get everything done before preseason games start in October may seem like a daunting task, but Oklahoma City had even less time to get prepared after Katrina struck New Orleans in late August 2005.

“Normally, I think a mayor would be worried about taking an NBA team under such a short timeframe, but we’re the only city in American history that’s ever had to do something in five weeks,” Cornett said. “This is plenty of time. We don’t know any different.”

07-04-2008, 09:08 AM
Seattle faces challenges to bring NBA back
By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP)—As the SuperSonics pack for the move to Oklahoma City, basketball fans and city officials were hopeful about the provisions of the team’s departure deal that could lead to a new NBA franchise in Seattle.

But meeting those requirements will be no easy task. Basketball boosters will have to win over a balky state Legislature and local voters who have grown weary of building stadiums for pro sports teams.

The biggest lynchpin in the process is a proposed $300 million renovation of KeyArena, which needs approval from the Washington state Legislature to cover $75 million. Another $75 million would come from the city of Seattle with $150 million from private investors.

“(Seattle) is ready to do its part. Local investors have stepped up. Now, the state Legislature must act,” Seattle mayor Greg Nickels said.

Caught in the middle is the basketball fan in Seattle, who now must accept the reality that the green and gold of the SuperSonics is now a historic item.

The team is headed to Oklahoma City after 41 years and one NBA title in Seattle. The championship banners, the 1979 title trophy and the retired jerseys of Jack Sikma, Lenny Wilkens and Nate McMillan will remain in storage in Seattle in the hopes that the SuperSonics name and colors will be resurrected.

But if those jerseys ever hang in the KeyArena rafters again, perhaps alongside the numbers of more recent Sonics heroes such as Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, it will mean many obstacles have been overcome.

Wednesday’s settlement came with the blessing of NBA commissioner David Stern, but without the guarantee of a future team, leaving some Seattle fans feeling betrayed by city officials and the NBA.

But while fans vent their anger on blogs, local officials put a positive spin on the settlement, latching on to Stern’s reversal on the possibility that a renovated KeyArena could house a future team. Getting the money to update KeyArena, however, requires the approval of state lawmakers, who have rebuffed three previous efforts to help bankroll arena projects for the Sonics.

City officials now hope that a slightly different financing package will help them win the Legislature’s approval. Rather than attempting to tap regional taxes that are paying for Seattle’s other major sports stadiums, the city wants to divert a slice of existing hotel taxes that presently pay for the state convention center, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said Thursday.

That could generate enough money to back $75 million in bonds—the missing piece of an equation that also includes $150 million in private money and another $75 million in city dollars from other sources.

“The key next step is funding package. Without that we can’t really have a negotiation,” said Seattle developer Matt Griffin, the public face of a potential franchise ownership group that includes Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer and has previously offered to pay for half of a $300 million renovation of KeyArena.

But Schultz, Bennett and Ballmer’s groups all have traveled this path before with the state Legislature, none finding any success. And the thought of a strict 2009 deadline for approving a new stadium financing package, well before there’s any team to play there, didn’t sit well with some in power at the state Capitol.

“It’s not going to work, with these 147 individually elected members of the state Legislature, to threaten them and bully them,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. “God love the fans, but we have a state to run. And I think the city of Seattle, they have to go out and make their case to the state.”

And Nickels’ rhetoric aside, it’s not clear the citizens of Seattle would put up with a big tax subsidy to lure another NBA team even if lawmakers authorized it. Two years ago, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to block such subsidies.

In his statement, Stern said the NBA would assist in helping Seattle acquire a team if state lawmakers approve the KeyArena remodel before the end of 2009. But finding an available team could be equally tough.

While franchise stability appears shaky in Memphis, Sacramento and Milwaukee, those teams may never come up for sale. And Seattle might be competing with the likes of Anaheim, Calif., Las Vegas and Kansas City for any attainable team, that could cost upward of $300 to 400 million to purchase.

In the interim, KeyArena will sit dark for much of the winter, with just the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and potentially a few Seattle University basketball games to fill the hoops void.

“I think the NBA can thrive there but it requires a modern building,” Bennett said. “It requires commitment of leadership and perhaps through this, that can all be realigned and pointed in the right direction. And I wish them well in that endeavor.”