OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Commissioner David Stern and three NBA owners believe Oklahoma City should be the future home of the Seattle SuperSonics.
To make his relocation request a reality, Sonics owner Clay Bennett now needs to win over at least 13 more of his peers.
After a tour of the Ford Center and a presentation from Oklahoma City and state officials, Stern said Tuesday a subcommittee of three NBA owners would suggest approval of the SuperSonics’ move by the rest of the league.
“We made important progress today,” Bennett said. “A lot more to be done, but a very important step. I think it was a very successful day and we look forward to the next step.”
Gov. Brad Henry, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops and numerous other representatives of the city, state and sports community came out to welcome Stern, New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz, Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and Los Angeles Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss as Oklahoma City brought out fancy cars and hard facts to woo its first major-league sports franchise.
“It was a pretty full presentation and pretty much a tour de force on behalf of Oklahoma that I’d say impressed the members of the committee greatly,” Stern said.
While the relocation would mean a move to a much smaller market, Stern said he was encouraged by the amount of support from area leaders and fans, and the revenue potential the team would have in a downtown arena being remodeled with $121 million in public funds approved by 62 percent of the voters earlier this month.
“When you come to a place like Oklahoma, you look for the single-team market as opposed to, for example, a market that has three or more professional sports leagues in it,” Stern said.
When asked about a group of Seattle businessmen who have offered to fund half of a $300 million renovation at KeyArena, the Sonics’ current home, Stern rejected the option.
“The reason that this journey began was because KeyArena was not an adequate arena going forward and there were a lot of recommendations made for another arena … but the tax revenues and the various contributions weren’t forthcoming,” Stern said.
Stern said the site of KeyArena doesn’t have the potential for expansion present at Oklahoma City’s downtown arena. Bennett has said the Sonics “don’t have a prayer of succeeding in KeyArena.”
Katz, Simon and Buss will meet with the remaining four members of the relocation committee—San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, Miami Heat managing general partner Micky Arison, Chris Cohan of the Golden State Warriors and Ed Snider of the Philadelphia 76ers—likely by telephone and make a formal recommendation to the rest of the league’s owners.
All 30 owners will vote on the SuperSonics’ relocation request during an April 18 meeting, with a majority needed for approval. The Sonics also have a federal court case scheduled for June to determine whether they can break their lease with Seattle that runs through 2010.
On Tuesday morning, City Council members in Oklahoma City approved terms of a 15-year lease with the SuperSonics that would require the team to pay the city $1.6 million annually to use the Ford Center and another $409,000 per year to be able to resell the arena’s naming rights.
Former Oklahoma state Rep. Wanda Jo Stapleton voiced concerns to the council that the lease leaves the city in position to pay for any cost overruns on the Ford Center renovations and the construction of an approximately $24 million practice facility funded by the sales tax extension.
“It’s in black and white there that the city will pay for the cost overruns, and there could be tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns because they’ve given the team owners free rein to make any changes, whatever they want, during the entire construction period,” Stapleton said. “It’s just a blank check, that’s all it is.”
City Manager Jim Couch assured Stapleton that the lease would allow the city to make any cuts necessary to keep the project within its budget.
“We have a very good history of building stuff on time and being financially responsible,” mayor Nick Cornett said.