|NBA approves Sonics' move to Oklahoma|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 19 April 2008 00:06|
When NBA owners overwhelmingly approved the SuperSonics' move to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season Friday - provided the team can settle its lawsuit with its hometown for the last 41 years - pain finally joined anger in Seattle.
``We're not surprised, but it still hurts,'' said Brian Robinson, head of the fan group ``Save our Sonics!''
Robinson paid his way to New York, then at 6 a.m. Friday he began standing outside the Manhattan hotel where the NBA's board of governors were meeting. He spent the morning staring down league owners on their way into the vote.
``The NBA doesn't seem to be showing any concern for the fans of the market,'' he said.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett tried. He said he was ``honored'' by the 28-2 vote by his colleagues for a move that will cost Bennett a $30 million relocation fee.
``I also want to express my regret to the citizens of Seattle and the fans of the Sonics that I was unsuccessful in bringing forth a new building,'' Bennett said, addressing the issue of how genuine his effort was in Seattle.
``We tried the best we knew how to try and (I) did the best job I could,'' Bennett said. ``Seattle is a great city. There's great fans. There is a great history.
``But decisions have now been made. ... Now I turn my focus to Oklahoma City. And I'm thrilled,'' said the financial capitalist, whose family is one of Oklahoma's wealthiest.
Seattle officials were already on a full-court press to make the Sonics fulfill the final two years of its lease by playing inside KeyArena. Friday's vote just increased the stakes.
The Sonics would be the third NBA team to change cities this decade. The Hornets went from Charlotte to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season. Vancouver lost the Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001.
``The Sonics have a valid lease with the city of Seattle through 2010. And we intend to enforce that lease,'' Mayor Greg Nickels said at City Hall Friday. ``We will continue with the litigation to ensure that they comply with that lease.''
There are three potential ends for Seattle:
- The U.S. District Court that will begin hearing the trial June 16 in Seattle over the team's lease dispute could rule for the city and say the Sonics must play in KeyArena for the final two years of the lease.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said the league is prepared for the Sonics to play two more seasons in Seattle, if that's what the court orders. He said the Sonics stand to lose as much as $30 million per season in that scenario.
The city's hope is to keep the Sonics in town for two lame duck seasons, to buy time for a group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to find an arena solution and eventually purchase the team from Bennett. Ballmer's group already has proposed paying for half of a $300 million expansion of KeyArena.
- The court could rule for Bennett and agree with him that he can simply write a check to buy out the final two years of the lease so he can move the team this summer.
- Bennett could make a settlement offer so large, Seattle could not refuse it.
Seattle has already turned down Bennett's $26.5 million buyout offer. Thursday, Nickels deflected questions about how large the offer would have to get before Seattle would consider it.
When asked Friday if he was expecting a new, richer offer from Bennett, Nickels said, ``I don't really care. We're going to go into court in June.''
Bennett is going to try to avoid that.
``I am hopeful that we can re-establish communications and some sort of platform to have a meaningful, principled conversation,'' he said. ``We are certainly nowhere near that today.''
Bennett and the league have strong motivation to avoid the court case. Losing the trial would create an ugly, almost unprecedented scenario for the NBA of a team hemorrhaging money playing games in an area that has become openly hostile to its ownership. The Sonics are coming off their worst season in franchise history and already had fans staying away from games.
``You know, it will make the parting somewhat less amicable. But so be it,'' Stern said of a move to Oklahoma in 2010.
Stern warned Seattle isn't likely to land another NBA team anytime soon for the same reason the Sonics are leaving: the ongoing reluctance of state and local officials to help pay for a replacement for outdated KeyArena.
Nickels, meanwhile, questioned the NBA's wisdom of moving away from Seattle's metropolitan economy that is ``larger than the entire state of Oklahoma's.''
Stern responded that owners understand the move is from a larger market to a much smaller one, but the league ``focused on the likelihood of success of the Sonics in Oklahoma City.''
Stern suggested that calling the moved club Oklahoma, instead of Oklahoma City, might be desirable because it reflects the importance of other parts of the state such as Tulsa in the franchise's viability.
For the first time, Bennett responded to a planned lawsuit announced this week by the Sonics' former owner, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz. Schultz is seeking to void Bennett's purchase, accusing him of failing to act in good faith to find a Seattle arena, as the two had agreed during the sale.
``I operated in good faith. And that will be vetted through the trial and be clear,'' Bennett said. ``I was disappointed because I've had a nice relationship with Howard. ... I made a commitment to him personally that was meaningful to me and I hail to that commitment.
``That's another conversation I would like to have personally and perhaps resolve that as well.''
Bennett said his inclination is to leave the SuperSonics' name, colors and history in Seattle. But he added that could be a bargaining chip in his negotiations with the city, with Seattle possible retaining them for a future team.
Dallas and Portland voted against Bennett. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly said it is bad business for the NBA to relocate from a vibrant, larger market like Seattle to a smaller one. Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, a Seattle software billionaire, likely kept his friends and made some more in the Emerald City with his vote.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.