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07-18-2006, 09:24 PM
Sonics' future in Seattle in doubt after sale

Mike Kahn / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 4 hours ago

If this is a repost, KMA.

The Seattle SuperSonics announced the majority of the team has been sold to a group of investors from Oklahoma City at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The Basketball Club of Seattle will sell the teams to the Professional Basketball Club LLC, headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. Bennett said the Sonics' future in Seattle would depend on whether the team is able to reach an agreement with the city to replace or renovate KeyArena.

"It is not our intention to move or relocate the teams," Bennett said.

Sonics majority owner Howard Schultz said that was key factor behind the decision to sell the team to Bennett's group. Schultz said that the team rejected higher bids from groups who intended to move the team immediately.

"It is really impossible to communicate how difficult this decision has been for us to make," Schultz said.

The price tag for the team was not immediately reported, but sources from within the Basketball Club of Seattle said it is a $350 million agreement with the group from Oklahoma City. And Bennett's assurances that the new group will try to make a go of it in Seattle aside, they could move the team to Oklahoma City as soon as the 2007-08 season. Even though the lease at KeyArena runs through 2010, the city has claimed it loses money every time the Sonics play so some sort of buyout could be made in the near future.

The Sonics, the flagship professional franchise in Seattle dating back to 1967, have been losing tens of millions of dollars since present majority owner Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz purchased the team from The Ackerley Group in 2001, due in part to an unpalatable lease with the city of Seattle. Led by president and minority owner Wally Walker, they have been trying desperately to get the city and state to approve renovations to the 17,072-seat KeyArena, which had a $70 million facelift in 1995 and was renamed in lieu of the dilapidated old Seattle Center Coliseum.

But after NBA commissioner David Stern joined Schultz and Walker at a special session of the state legislature in Olympia last winter in an attempt to get support from the state of Washington, the wheels began to turn. Rumblings from groups in San Jose and Orange County came into the picture. The general consensus was the Sonics would stay, but eventually move to the east side of Lake Washington in affluent Bellevue, where the majority of the season ticket base resides anyway. Stern also said at an All-Star game news conference that the league would allow the Sonics to relocate if the team was not given the money it requested.

Nonetheless, the Sonics have had resistance from all sides in search of financial help, and the bloated ownership group which has more than 60 investors has been answering cash calls of late.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City sold out 35 games last season while providing the New Orleans Hornets with a de facto home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's destruction in the Big Easy. The NBA had already announced the 2008 NBA All-Star game would be played in New Orleans, and has encouraged owner George Shinn to make every attempt to make a go of it in New Orleans despite a struggle with sponsorship and attendance even before the devastation of Katrina.

That success explains why Stern may have brokered the deal between the group from Oklahoma City, essentially delivering the Sonics as a payback for being the cordial and successful host. Especially since the city of Seattle and the state of Washington have showed no indication they would like to help the Sonics financially.

The Sonics won the NBA title in 1979 and lost in the NBA Finals in 1996. But they have been in the playoffs just twice since Schultz bought the team after he promised they would win a title within five years. The Starbucks corporate office is located south of downtown Seattle.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


07-18-2006, 09:26 PM