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April 21, 2008
Stop the Shady Move of
the SuperSonics from Seattle
Professional basketball in Seattle died what may be a final death on
Friday, when NBA owners voted to approve the team's relocation to
Oklahoma City. Now, only pending lawsuits stand in the way of the demise
of the Seattle SuperSonics.
Team owners holding their cities hostage – threatening to up and move to
greener pastures barring the construction of new, publicly financed
stadiums and arenas – is nothing new, of course. What’s especially
appalling about Seattle’s case is the dishonesty of the owners involved,
the complicity of the league leadership, and the betrayal of one of
sports’ most devoted and loyal fan bases.
Not since the twin back-stabbings of the 1990s that were Cleveland
Browns fans vs. Art Modell and Minnesota North Stars fans vs. Norm Green
has such a betrayal happened to a better group of fans, in the middle of
brief rundown: Howard Schultz, best known as the man who built
Starbucks, led the group that owned the Sonics until 2006 when the team
was sold to a group of businessmen from Oklahoma City led by Clay
The Oklahoma capital had temporarily hosted the New Orleans Hornets
after Hurricane Katrina, and had widely been expected to be first in
line for a team of their own. Bennett and his group, however, claimed at
first that they were happy in Seattle, yessiree, and that they were
committed to keeping the team there – provided, of course, they could
get a publicly-financed replacement for KeyArena.
Unfortunately, the new owners had trouble keeping their mouths (and
e-mail accounts) shut about their true intentions. In mid-2007, minority
– an energy mogul who was also a major backer of the Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth – was quoted by an Oklahoma City business journal as saying
that they “didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle,” a bit
of off-message talk that earned McClendon a $250,000 fine from NBA
Commissioner David Stern.
however, denied that McClendon spoke for the group, and the gaffe did
nothing to slow the owners’ plans. Indeed, later in 2007, they formally
announced plans to move to Oklahoma City, pending litigation over
whether the team could exit its lease.
efforts of groups of city elders, led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, to
put financing together for KeyArena improvements and a fan group called
Save Our Sonics – and even the support of influential ESPN.com columnist
Bill Simmons – attempts to stop the relocation have mostly failed.
the commissioner has not only stood foursquare with Bennett, but has
vowed repeatedly that if the Sonics leave, Seattle will not receive a
new team any time in the foreseeable future. The owners have followed
him, as demonstrated by Friday’s vote.
recently, e-mails among the owners from 2006 have surfaced that again
showed they had no plans to even pursue keeping the team in Seattle –
which led to a lawsuit from Schultz himself, arguing that since the
Bennett group violated the terms of the sale agreement the team should
be returned to him.
hopes for keeping the team in Seattle rest on the dispute over the
lease, as well as the Schultz suit. But even if they remain in town for
two more years, the lease is up in 2010 and the team would likely be out
the door then.
The idea of
this move is ridiculous for several reasons: Seattle is a strong,
vibrant basketball town, and the Sonics are the only one of its three
pro teams that have ever won a championship. The arena in such dire need
of replacement was renovated only 13 years ago. Seattle is the nation’s
13th-largest television market. According to the Media Info
Center, Oklahoma City ranks 47th. And the NBA is failing in
several cities – Memphis and Charlotte spring to mind first – so why not
put those teams in Oklahoma?
And even more unfortunately for Sonics fans, their team is being whisked
from them just as they appear primed for a run of sustained on-court
success. The team presently has a promising core, led by budding
superstar Kevin Durant, with lots of high draft picks in the near future
and visionary executive Sam Presti in the general manager’s chair.
The NBA has stepped in before to stop a shady-seeming sale/relocation –
the Minnesota Timberwolves’ aborted 1994 move to New Orleans by boxing
promoters – so it would behoove Stern and the owners to take the side of
Seattle in crafting a solution that puts more honest bosses in charge,
and keeps the Sonics where they belong.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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