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The NBA in Oklahoma City

The Hornets, the Seattle SuperSonics and the Future for OKC


The NBA in Oklahoma City

Seattle SuperSonics - Official Logo

FAQ About the NBA in OKC

Who are these investors? - The investors are well-known in the OKC corporate environment, and the group is led by Clay Bennett, Chairman of private investment firm Dorchester Capital. The other members of the group are:
  • Aubrey McClendon - Chairman/CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp.
  • G. Jeffrey Records - Chairman/CEO of MidFirst Bank
  • Tom Ward - Chairman/CEO of Riata Energy, Inc.
  • Ed Evans - Chairman of Syniverse Holding, Inc.
  • William Cameron - Chairman/President/CEO of American Fidelity Assurance Co.
  • Bob Howard - President Mercedes Benz of OKC
  • Everett Dobson - Executive Chairman of Dobson Communications Corp.
  • Jay Scaramucci - President of Balon Corp.
Yeah, but who is Clay Bennett? - Well, Bennett is a businessman, but he seems to have a strong affinity for Oklahoma City. After all, he was born and raised in the metro and is married to Louise Gaylord Bennett. The Gaylords, of course, own the city newspaper.

Bennett was a former part-owner of the San Antonio Spurs and tried unsuccessfully to bring a NHL team to OKC in the late 90's. He was instrumental in brokering the deal with the Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

Why the interest in the Sonics? - Bennett's group tried to purchase the Hornets first. But while George Shinn was looking for investors to help alleviate some of his debt, he was not looking to give up control of the organization. Control, however, was exactly what Bennett's group wanted. So they looked elsewhere.

Howard Schultz had been trying to negotiate a deal with Seattle for a new arena, but it was not going well. He entertained several offers and chose Bennett's group, reportedly because of specific terms of the deal.

What about the Hornets? - Bennett's group urged OKC residents to continue to support the Hornets during the 2006-2007 season, and they certainly did. Though the Hornets returned to New Orleans for 2007-2008, many Oklahoma City residents will always hold a soft spot for their first NBA love.

What were the terms of the Sonics deal? - Bennett's group agreed to negotiate for one year to obtain a new arena. That was an important consideration for Schultz. Only if those attempts were unsuccessful after a year would the group be able to relocate the team.

The total value of the agreement was $350 million and included not only the SuperSonics but also the WNBA Storm, the Storm being later sold to Seattle investors. The agreement was finalized October 2006, and the one year negotiation period began at that time.

What about Seattle's attempts to provide the Sonics a new arena in Washington? - There wasn't much of an effort, at least until it was too late. Despite public opinion in Seattle to the contrary, Bennett tried to negotiate on a new arena in good faith but received significant resistance.

The legislature failed to approve an arena plan in April of 2007. That's when Bennett began speaking of relocation, saying "I don't think having a franchise that's leaving town is good for anyone. Not for the players, not for the fans."

Bennett's ownership group officially filed for relocation to Oklahoma City on November 2, 2007 and that relocation was approved by an NBA owner's vote of 28-2 on April 18, 2008. In anticipation of that vote, Mayor Mick Cornett set forth a plan to upgrade the Ford Center. It passed overwhelmingly, and the city came to terms with the Sonics owners in March 2008 on a lease agreement.

So why didn't the team begin relocation immediately? - There were still a couple of very large legal hurdles for the Sonics owners. The city of Seattle filed suit in U.S. District court hoping to force the Sonics to play out the remaining two years on their KeyArena Lease. Former owner Howard Schultz also filed a lawsuit claiming Bennett's group did not negotiate in good faith to stay in Seattle. He would later drop the suit, admitting he likely wouldn't win.

Most Oklahoma City residents took a wait and see approach, knowing it was likely the relocation was a question of "when" rather than "if." Nevertheless, a complicated legal proceeding ensued between the city of Seattle and the Sonics ownerships group.

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