OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett had good news for NBA commissioner David Stern on Wednesday.
After passing a $121 million package to upgrade a downtown arena and build an NBA practice facility, Oklahoma City appeared to be moving closer to securing its first major pro sports franchise but there's still a waiting game before that dream can become a reality.
NBA owners will vote in mid-April on whether the Seattle SuperSonics can relocate to Oklahoma City, but even that won't settle the issue. A trial is scheduled for June in which a federal judge will rule on whether the SuperSonics can break their lease before it ends in 2010.
``I think it's a strong sign of support for the NBA and we're gratified by it,'' Stern said Wednesday night in Salt Lake City before the Jazz hosted the Timberwolves.
``I would never make any odds on any litigation, other than to say I think that the odds are increasing that the team will go to Oklahoma City, but if I were a betting man I wouldn't bet on the exact timing of it.''
Regardless of what happens with the Sonics, Cornett wants to make sure Oklahoma City can keep its place atop Stern's list of potential NBA cities that it earned through a successful two-year stint as the New Orleans Hornets' temporary home.
``I know that everybody likes to look at Seattle and starts to compare us and starts to look at we're taking a team from Seattle,'' Cornett said. ``I really look at it as the cities that we're competing against are the other cities that don't have a franchise. If and when a team relocates, I feel like we're going to get it.
``But whether or not a team relocates, I can't tell you. That's completely out of my control.''
With thousands of votes left to count, Cornett was able to proclaim to supporters that the proposed sales tax extension to fund improvements to the Ford Center was going to pass.
``We've got a great story to tell. We've just got to make sure that we tell it and we communicate it,'' Cornett said. ``You can't assume that NBA owners are following what goes on in Oklahoma City, and you've got to make sure they don't forget how good the Hornets did at the box office.''
Cornett said Stern simply offered congratulations on the arena measure passing and told him he expected the two to see each other more as the relocation issue comes up next month. Cornett said he expects the SuperSonics to handle any formal presentations to NBA owners on why Oklahoma City deserves a team, but he hopes they noticed the amount of support - 61.9 percent of voters - that the arena upgrades received in the election.
``If we pass this 51-49, it's nice but to pass it 61-39, that's something that the other NBA owners are going to say, 'Wow, they can't even pass this in my community. We couldn't pass anything like this,''' Cornett said. ``The evidence that we can support a team and are enthused about this mounts and mounts and mounts until what I hope will be kind of a definitive response from them that this is as close to a sure deal as they're going to find in a city.''
The NBA had success in Oklahoma City over the previous two seasons, with an average of more than 18,300 fans attending the Hornets' games at the Ford Center. The team was able to operate far enough in the black that Oklahoma City claimed some of the profits through a revenue-sharing agreement.
The arena upgrades, including new suites, restaurants and clubs, are intended to help a permanent franchise boost its revenue.
Beyond the NBA, city officials hope the upgraded Ford Center will help Oklahoma City compete for concerts, Big 12 basketball tournaments and NCAA tournament regionals. The arena will get its second chance to host the Big 12 tournaments next year, and NCAA tournament action each of the next three years.
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