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Been Caught Stealin’: Clay Bennett and the NBA

23rd March 2008

Maury Brown

Clay Bennett has decided that Oklahoma City is more appealing than the Emerald City.

While Bennett is playing the part of a petty thief, David Stern and the NBA are driving the getaway car.

Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman, and his partners (almost entirely from OKC, as well), purchased the Seattle SuperSonics from Starbucks Coffee founder, Howard Schultz in 2006. Bennett’s purchase was based on two things: Relocation, or extort the city of Seattle into a replacement arena, built primarily on the taxpayer’s dime.

Since Seattle decided that when you walk into someone’s home, and first thing you do is decide to raid the fridge, they’ve given Bennett the cold shoulder. Bennett, either in a case of getting what he wanted all along, or otherwise, is working to relocate as soon as possible. Seattle is working the legal system in an effort to force the Sonics to stay in Seattle till the end of their lease agreement, which expires in 2010.

In the meantime, his hometown seems more than willing to sell themselves off at any price in order to be “big league.” If you need any more proof that OKC is willing to sell their souls for the NBA, consider this: The Ford Center, the facility built to lure a major league sports franchise, was built for $90 million and opened in 2002.

To date, it has never had a permanent major league sports team tenant. It hosted the New Orleans Hornets after Hurricane Katrina, averaging 18,716 in 2005-06 (36 games) and 17,951 (35 games) in 2006-2007.

Not content with a facility all of 6 years old, and barely used, Oklahoma City fell all over themselves and kicked up an additional $100 million through a general tax to add further improvements to the Ford Center, and build a new training facility for the team that would formerly be called the Sonics, should they arrive in OKC.

If saying that OKC is “falling all over themselves” seems harsh, you have to wonder why a city would fork over the $100 million, when they were in the driver’s seat. Seattle isn’t budging on funds, and Commissioner Stern has already said that the team is pretty much out the door (“I expect that inevitability”).

In other words, Bennett and Co. would be in one heck of a bind if they decided to tell OKC to stick it if they didn’t do even more to beg for their love, and move across the country.

Begging is really unbecoming. For anyone that’s been in a lopsided relationship, you know that when you smother and pile on gifts, when you don’t have to, in order to gain acceptance, well… the relationship never is healthy.

Oklahoma City, you’re begging.

As for the NBA, they’re the enablers in all of this. Relocation seems to be part of the landscape with the league, who is now about to sign off on moving a former NBA Champion, that has been part of the league in Seattle since 1967 (Two franchises have already been relocated since 2001 with varying degrees of success – Hornets to New Orleans, Grizzles to Memphis from Vancouver). Seattle-Tacoma is ranked 14th in the country by DMA, according to Arbitron at 3,328,100. Where does Oklahoma City rank? 48th, at 1,091,300. Congratulations, David Stern. You either plan on doing another relocation to Seattle, or you’ve decided that moving a team from a large market to small market is business genius. Hardly.

It’s not hard for one to root for Bennett to fail. To be clear, I’m not saying I want Oklahoma City to fail, I want Bennett to fail. If that does happen, it certainly will go a long way to proving the existence of karma.


OTHER STORIES I’M WORKING ACROSS THE SPORTS BUSINESS NETWORK

Eye of the Tiger: Cabrera Reaches $153 million Agreement – The Biz of Baseball

New Era Reaches Three-Year Deal with Korean Baseball – The Biz of Baseball

Selling the Drama: Red Sox, Collusion, and Barry Bonds – The Biz of Baseball


Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown’s full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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