Storm coach Anne Donovan appeared dazed.
"Sorry, my mind is somewhere else," she said before asking a reporter to repeat a question during media availability before Seattle played Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon.
That morning, Donovan learned the WNBA Storm and NBA Sonics had been sold to Oklahoma City-based owners for $350 million. The sale brought back dark memories of when her former Charlotte Sting franchise was sold in 2002, along with the NBA's Hornets. But while the Hornets moved to New Orleans at the conclusion of the season, the unwanted Sting stayed behind in limbo, operated by the WNBA without basic resources like computers until new ownership was secured in January 2003.
By then, however, Donovan had already accepted her position with the Storm, believing in the future in Seattle.
The Storm coach did not have all the details of Tuesday's sale when she spoke to the media after her team's 74-61 loss at KeyArena, but a familiar doubt she thought was left in Charlotte was apparent.
"It's a little bit distracting, I'll be honest," Donovan admitted following the game. "The team did not know."
News of the sale hit fans as soon as they walked into KeyArena. By halftime, there were handmade posters opposing the sale and people gathering to discuss what they could do to stop the team from moving.
Ann Hudspeth, 36, of Redmond even bought the domain www.okisnotok.org to provide links to stories and allow people to vent.
"It's a sad day," she said.
But nobody is going anywhere — yet.
The five new owners, headed by Clay Bennett, chairman of a private investment company, made a commitment to former primary owner Howard Schultz, the mastermind behind Starbucks, that they would negotiate with the city of Seattle for 12 months in securing funds needed for a new facility.
The new owners repeated several times Tuesday that they want to keep both teams in Seattle. Being from Oklahoma City, a city pushing to acquire an NBA team, was "more a coincidence than anything," Bennett said.
The Storm should stay at least through the 2007 season.
Yet the new owners face the same uphill battle Schultz and his group of about 58 owners faced. Because of the lease, Schultz's group felt it could not make a profit at KeyArena, even at 100 percent capacity for 41 home Sonics games. One of the new owners, Ed Evans, a native Floridian whose business is based in Oklahoma City, said even with the previously proposed $220 million renovation, KeyArena wouldn't be a viable venture for the long term.
The group is seeking a new facility entirely and said it set the 12-month guideline so negotiations could begin immediately. In fact, Bennett spoke with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels before the news conference to announce the sale. The group also plans to honor the current lease, which expires in 2010.
"They [Schultz's group] have been losing a substantial amount of money on an annual basis and we're certainly willing to do that for a period of time while we are negotiating for a world-class arena," Evans said. "We certainly have the financial resources and capabilities to support that for a few years, but our objective is to secure a world-class new arena in this area that will allow us to keep the teams here.
"It's not something we'll negotiate in the media. One of the tactical errors made is there was a lot of public negotiations going on, for lack of a better term. We're going to meet and we want to start with a clean sheet of paper with every intention of keeping the team here."
News of the pro basketball teams possibly moving to Oklahoma City did perk the spirits of Storm guard Betty Lennox, who was the WNBA Finals MVP in 2004. A native of Hugo, Okla., where her mother and some family still live, she said the region would support the league.
Fans from Oklahoma at Tuesday's game disagreed, however, saying the state's conservative nature and football roots don't fit the WNBA.
"It's a state that I'm proudly from and we need a professional team and other things to do to keep gang-bangers and the drug dealers off the street," said Lennox, who was on the rosters of two WNBA franchises that folded. "It would be exciting for the whole state of Oklahoma. It would be like having the Mall of America."
Still, the Storm hopes owners don't move the team. All-Star Lauren Jackson has long stated she will not play in another WNBA city, but is under contract for two more summers. All-Star Sue Bird's contract expires at the end of this season. Since she would be a restricted free agent, the Storm has 10 days to match any contract offered by an opposing franchise.
"We've got a hard time dealing with what we're going through right now," said Lennox, who is signed through 2007. "We'll let the new owners deal with that, and we'll continue to play and try to be successful."
Karen Bryant, who retains her position as the Storm's chief operating officer, reiterated the new owners' optimism in resolving a deal for a new facility and commitment to the Storm, but did say there are investors in the area that could purchase a WNBA team at the $10 million going rate.
Seattle (11-11) is one of the more successful teams in the 14-team league, averaging 7,798 fans this summer.
"I'm going to choose to believe that they're sincere," Bryant said of the new owners.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org