Grand Theft Hoops: The Stealing of the Sonics

Grand Theft Hoops: The Stealing of the Sonics

Grand Theft Hoops: The Stealing of the Sonics

Two Oklahoma corporate raiders have stolen one of Seattle’s most beloved sports franchises with an unlikely accomplice, the NBA’s commissioner, David Stern.


So long, Kevin Durant; we hardly knew ye. Goodbye, Slick Watts. Farewell, Gary Payton. Tom Chambers’s mullet will have to find someplace else to call home. Two contemptible men named Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon–who in their spare time spend millions of dollars sponsoring antigay referendums–have moved the Seattle SuperSonics and their forty-one years of NBA history to Oklahoma City. As hearts were broken in Seattle, Bennett–who made his money the old fashioned way, by marrying it–appeared grinning in front of a podium with the NBA logo emblazoned with the letters OKC and said, “We made it. The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season.” The only “we” Bennett could have been referring to was himself and McClendon. It’s a shame these two ghouls are so adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. Because they are perfect for each other.

After a six-day federal trial, US District Court Judge Marsha Pechman announced that the city had settled with the two Oklahoma corporate raiders for the paltry sum of $75 million, with only $45 million guaranteed. Bennett and McClendon now get to legally steal the team and all Seattle gets back is the right to the name “SuperSonics,” along with the team colors. It’s like losing your house and getting to keep the doorknobs.

Bennett said, with a look on his face as sincere as George W. Bush at a military funeral, “It was a tough experience for all of us that were involved in it. There was just so much that happened on both sides, so much misinterpreted, miscommunicated and misunderstood, that it was difficult.”

But Bennett and McClendon haven’t disrespected the sacred hoops of Seattle without help. They can thank the man pulling the strings, a person to whom fans have become little more than scenery for those in the luxury boxes: NBA Commissioner David Stern.

There has been nothing “miscommunicated” by David Stern about whether the Sonics will ever actually have players to fill those uniforms. He issued the following statement: “We understand that city, county, and state officials are currently discussing a plan to substantially rebuild KeyArena for the sum of $300 million. If this funding were authorized, we believe KeyArena could properly be renovated into a facility that meets NBA standards relating to revenue generation, fan amenities, team facilities, and the like.”

In other words, if the taxpayers come up with $300 million dollars, then you get a team. Stern knows full well that the Seattle legislature has spent the last year denying Bennett, McClendon and himself this taxpayer money. Even worse has been the reaction of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. Nickels did some crowing Wednesday, saying that the settlement would cover all the rent, tax revenue and debt on KeyArena. “I believed all along enforcing our lease would allow us time to come to a better arrangement,” Nickels said. “We now have that deal.”

Some deal. The city gets its payout. Bennett and McClendon get to move their team to Oklahoma City and the fans get slapped in the face. No one in the Washington state political class showed the courage to stand up to Stern and his cronies. They never pursued “municipalization”–a kind word for expropriation–and turning the team into a public utility. The one person who outsmarted all the politicians who so badly bungled the negotiations and then buckled like a belt was former Sonics star Ray Allen.

He summed up the situation perfectly six months ago: “When the team was bought from the previous ownership, they told us and everybody in the city that they sold it to a group that they thought would most likely keep the team in the city. Everybody thought that was some [garbage]. How is someone from Oklahoma City going to buy a team in Seattle who doesn’t have any ties [in Seattle] and has big money in Oklahoma? If things don’t go right, everybody’s craving for the team to move to Oklahoma City.”

Maybe Ray Allen should run for mayor of Seattle. It would be the closest the city could get to having a SuperSonic within the city limits.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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