Oklahoma City gets ready to rejoin major leagues Print
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Thursday, 03 July 2008 13:31
NBA Headline News

 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.
ty.
``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.''
 

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