Sonics owners: no pre-purchase plan for Oklahoma move
Sonics and Storm owners insisted Monday they've honestly been trying to secure a local arena deal despite co-owner Aubrey McClendon's remarks...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sonics and Storm owners insisted Monday they've honestly been trying to secure a local arena deal despite co-owner Aubrey McClendon's remarks to an Oklahoma City newspaper that the group of eight partners bought the NBA franchise to move it to Oklahoma.
"We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here," McClendon told The Journal Record, an Oklahoma City business newspaper.
McClendon's comments, published as part of a lengthy profile in The Journal Record, clashed with repeated assurances by principal team owner Clay Bennett that the Oklahoma-based group intended to try to keep the Sonics and Storm in the Seattle area.
The remarks drew quick blasts from a popular local Sonics fan site, SonicsCentral.com, which paired McClendon's statements with the headline: "Clay Bennett is a liar."
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis called the remarks "very, very disappointing," adding: "It leaves one with the sense that they were never being entirely genuine about wanting to work with the city to stay in Seattle."
That's what many have suspected since Bennett led the group of Oklahoma City businessmen in the $350 million purchase of the Sonics and Storm last year.
Bennett and McClendon tried to tamp down the controversy Monday, issuing written statements saying McClendon, the billionaire chief executive of natural-gas producer Chesapeake Energy, doesn't speak for the ownership group.
McClendon said his comment merely reflected his "personal desire" to see NBA basketball in Oklahoma City.
"I was always aware and understood our number-one goal was to work with officials to build a new arena in the Seattle area. ... The comment about my personal hopes cannot in any way be interpreted to mean the organization has not exhaustively pursued every reasonable avenue to get an arena deal done and keep the Sonics and Storm in Seattle."
Oct. 31 deadline
As part of the agreement to buy the Sonics and Storm, Bennett agreed to make a "good-faith" effort for one year to get a new arena in the Seattle area. That year ends Oct. 31 — a deadline Bennett and McClendon raised again in their comments Monday. If no arena deal is reached in the next two months, Bennett has said, he'll ask the NBA for permission to move the teams.
Brian Robinson, co-founder of fan group Save Our Sonics and Storm and administrator for SonicsCentral.com, said he plans to write a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern citing McClendon's comments and asking the league to prevent a Sonics and Storm move.
Asked about the comments Monday, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said, "We have been assured by Mr. Bennett that Aubrey McClendon does not speak on behalf of the team."
Still, there has been little sign that a Seattle arena deal will come together before Bennett's deadline.
The state Legislature rejected Bennett's proposal for a $500 million Renton arena this spring.
State Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, a vocal supporter of that effort, said lawmakers treated team owners "shabbily" by refusing to seriously consider the Renton plan. Some lawmakers also have criticized McClendon and another Sonics partner, Tom Ward, for making large contributions to an anti-gay-marriage group.
Prentice said she doesn't blame McClendon for his latest comments.
"I've been waiting for Clay Bennett to flip us all off and tell us to go jump in the lake," Prentice said.
Bennett has displayed little interest lately in arena talks.
Earlier this month Bennett canceled a planned meeting with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, saying he wasn't interested in talking about a renovation of city-owned KeyArena favored by the mayor. Nickels retorted that he didn't want to meet either if Bennett wanted to discuss only a way to get out of his KeyArena lease before it ends in 2010.
Arena proposal efforts
Despite the soured relations between team owners and local fans, there have been independent efforts to come up with an arena proposal to retain the Sonics and Storm.
Gov. Christine Gregoire recently convened a group of prominent local business executives to talk about arena possibilities, according to an aide.
Scott Merriman, legislative director for the state Office of Financial Management, said the "handful" of local executives, whom he declined to identify, have met with Gregoire at least once to talk about arena possibilities. Merriman said "no specific plan" had yet emerged.
Separately, the Muckleshoot Tribe has been exploring a possible arena in Auburn near the Emerald Downs horse racing track.
In his comments to The Journal Record, McClendon acknowledged the NBA team would make more money if it stayed in the Pacific Northwest but said financial difficulty won't stop the team from moving to Oklahoma City.
"We know it's a little more difficult financially here in Oklahoma City, but we think it's great for the community and if we could break even we'd be thrilled," he told the newspaper.
But whatever the desires of McClendon or Bennett, Seattle officials say they'll refuse an early buyout of the Sonics KeyArena lease, which runs through September 2010.
"They shouldn't be making any plans for Oklahoma City for the '08-'09 season," Ceis said.
Christina Siderius contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
Furniture & home furnishings
POST A FREE LISTING