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Originally published April 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 19, 2008 at 12:52 AM

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Berry Tramel: Stern's message to Seattle is clear

When announcing Oklahoma City as the NBA's newest port, commissioner David Stern cut all ties to a 41-year NBA city. Seattle's aggressive bid to make Stern and the NBA owners think twice about voting for OKC went splat.

The Oklahoman

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The greatest headline in newspaper history came Oct. 30, 1975. A bankrupt New York City asked for federal government help, and President Ford said: not on his watch.

The next day's New York Daily News blared: "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD."

Friday, in the same borough where William J. Brink wrote that six-syllable monument to plain speech, a different kind of poet said much the same thing, though more eloquently.

Troubadour David Stern delivered a clear message:

STERN TO SEATTLE: DROP DEAD.

When announcing Oklahoma City as his league's newest port, the commissioner cut all ties to a 41-year NBA city. Seattle's aggressive bid to make Stern and the NBA owners think twice about voting for OKC went splat. The lawsuits. The vilification of Sonics chairman Clay Bennett. The vow to bleed the franchise for the next two years.

But what Stern continually termed Seattle's "scorched-earth policy" only seemed to make Stern dig in deeper.

"I'm not going to talk about how many angels you can fit upon the head of a pin," Stern said in response to one of many questions from Seattle media about possible solutions to the Sonics' arena woes. "That's a perpetual subject that gets discussed and discussed and discussed, and nothing ever gets done, and hasn't been done.

"And now, as the vote comes up, the recriminations begin, and that's very sad."

Very sad. Too late. Drop dead. All the same thing.

And now it's up to the courts or Seattle's common sense on whether the Sonics will be in Bricktown by summer. It's financially prudent for Seattle to make a deal with Bennett; financially prudent but hard to stomach.

Stern dismissed a quick resolution, saying Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, the lawyer hired to scorch Stern's earth, were not interested in accepting the inevitable.

"My own sort of experience in matters like this, reading the tea leaves and the rhetoric, is that Sen. Gorton is intent upon a scorched-earth policy, and that's been pretty much bought into," Stern said.

Here in Oklahoma City, we've been into reading tea leaves ourselves — Stern's own words — on what might be the fate of the Hornets and OKC's NBA future and Seattle's dilemma.

No need to read tea leaves now. Stern didn't talk as plain as William J. Brink, but nothing is confusing about Stern's message. When asked what was supposed to be a tricky question — what did the day's events say to other cities that have great NBA fans? — he cut quickly to the core.

"Congratulations."

Then Stern reeled off the cities that recently built or are building arenas. San Antonio. Houston. Orlando. And Oklahoma City.

Indeed, congratulations are in order. This was the last hurdle. Now or 2010. The Sonics are coming.

Stern stood by his man, Bennett, who has been a friend to the league and was repaid in full Friday. Bennett, as a Spurs partner, helped broker an arena deal in San Antonio, and then, as an Oklahoma City businessman, put together the civic support that saved the Hornets when they fled New Orleans' flood.

So even though the Seattle saga has been unpleasant for the NBA in recent weeks and isn't likely to soon change, Stern did not waver. Oklahoma City had Stern on its side, and the most powerful commissioner in sport was not about to be bucked.

Stern carved up Seattle with a silver scalpel.

Oklahoma City passed a measure for a tax revenue to renovate Ford Center, Stern noted. And King County voters, or the Washington Legislature, approved funding for football and baseball stadiums, and "that's a good thing to be able to get through," he said.

That sticks in Stern's craw. The Seahawks got a stadium. The Mariners got a stadium. The Sonics got to the pizza box, only to find it empty.

No arena for you, Seattle told Stern before and after Bennett bought the team.

Drop dead, Stern said back.

Berry Tramel is a columnist for The Oklahoman. E-mail: btramel@oklahoman.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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