|SuperSonics owner Bennett wants to move team to Oklahoma City|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 02 November 2007 23:03|
He beamed watching No. 2 draft pick Kevin Durant score 27 points in just his second NBA game, showing flashes of his youthful brilliance and igniting the home fans.
But Bennett also knew what loomed Friday morning - his long-anticipated announcement that he plans to move the team to Oklahoma City, pending league approval.
``I was troubled. I understand the connection the team has to the community, the history. There are some very passionate, loyal fans and friends of the organization, people who have worked hard for us,'' Bennett said. ``It was personally disappointing. At the same time I was very enthused about our team, and our players and our coaches. I certainly have mixed feelings.''
His feelings might have been mashed, but his intentions on Friday were clear. Without plans in the offering to replace KeyArena, Bennett has no desire to keep the Sonics in Seattle any longer than he has to.
``This has been developing. These dates have all been made clear for a long time,'' he said. ``While all of us would prefer to find an answer in Seattle, we cannot stay without a new building.''
Bennett had set a Wednesday deadline for a new arena proposal to replace the Sonics' current home, which is the smallest facility in the NBA and Bennett says is outdated and unprofitable.
He briefly backed off his deadline, not wanting to distract from the start of the season. Bennett watched Thursday night's home opener against Phoenix from his suite, spending most of the second half chatting with Hall of Famer Bill Russell while fans chanted ``Save our Sonics!'' during the game.
``Today we notified commissioner (David) Stern that we intend to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma City if we succeed in the pending litigation with the city, or are able to negotiate an early lease termination, or at the end of the lease term,'' Bennett said in a statement.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed the league received notice and is referring the matter to the owners' relocation committee. Bennett had until March 1 to file for relocation with the NBA if he wants the team to play the 2008-09 season anywhere besides Seattle. The Sonics are the city's oldest major professional sports franchise.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said the latest development was ``no surprise'' and the state will ``continue to work with others on the arduous process'' of keeping the Sonics and the WNBA's Storm.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett called the news a ``significant step'' but urged caution.
``The history of sports is littered with franchises that intended to relocate, said they would relocate and for whatever reason didn't relocate,'' said Cornett, a former television sportscaster. ``Things change. I don't anticipate anything changing, but things do change.''
Bennett became owner just more than a year ago, and owns the WNBA Storm. He bought the Sonics from a local group led by Starbucks Coffee chairman Howard Schultz for $350 million and has said the club is not for sale. Schultz, also unhappy with KeyArena, and his group paid $200 million for the team in 2001.
Bennett is trying to void the final two years of the lease. The city wants to hold the Sonics to the agreement, which calls for the team to play at KeyArena through the 2009-10 season.
Bennett said the team lost $17 million last year because of the lease. The Sonics had sought arbitration to decide the matter, but this week a federal judge blocked the team from seeking an escape through those means. That kept alive the city's attempts to gain a court order forcing the Sonics to play in Seattle.
Bennett championed a proposal this year for a new arena in the suburb of Renton that called for about $300 million in public money. The plan failed to get backing in the state legislature.
``We now understand and respect that there is very limited public support for such a public investment,'' Bennett said.
Bennett has said he had no intention of splitting the Sonics and Storm, but appeared to hedge Friday, saying there has been ``significant'' interest in keeping the WNBA team in Seattle, perhaps under different ownership. The Storm will play the 2008 season in Seattle.
A few hours before Bennett's announcement, a group of local investors offered to buy the Sonics in an effort to keep the Sonics from moving.
The group is headed by Dennis Daugs, a private wealth manager and managing director of Lakeside Capital Management LLC. The group said it sent Bennett a formal letter of interest. The statement did not identify others in the group or how much the group would pay.
``We respect the many loyal fans and we want to build a populist movement to keep the teams here,'' said Daugs, a former minority owner of the SuperSonics.
Bennett's reply, ``We're not at all interested in selling the team.''
Associated Press Writer Murray Evans in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.