King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Oklahoma City group buys Sonics, smiles a friendly hello, says the city has 12 months to pony up or say goodbye.


Salon Staff
July 19, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

The attempted extortion of the citizens of Seattle and environs got a boost Tuesday when the NBA SuperSonics were sold to a group of Oklahoma City investors who pledged to keep the team in Seattle right up until they move it to Oklahoma.

Unless the city ponies up about $70 million more than the $149 million it has already offered to renovate KeyArena, where the Sonics and the WNBA Storm, included in the deal, play.

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The city has 12 months, say the new owners, who are led by investment banker Clay Bennett, a leading citizen of Oklahoma City. You can really see the commitment to keep the Sonics in town.

After that year, the NBA is planning to move the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets back to the Bayou, leaving OKC, which has shown in the last year that it can support an NBA franchise for one year anyway, wide open for Bennett and his partners. They're the people who lured the Hornets to town after Hurricane Katrina.

Starbucks mogul Howard Schultz, the majority owner, sold the teams to Bennett's group, the newly formed Professional Basketball Club, for $350 million after fighting to get the taxpayers to pay for a renovation of KeyArena or construction of a new place.

Sonics spokeswoman and Storm chief operating officer Karen Bryant says Schultz's ownership group, Basketball Club of Seattle, has lost $70 million since buying the Sonics and Storm in 2001, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. That sounds pretty rough until you consider that Schultz's group paid $200 million.

You can see why a business that has appreciated in value by 75 percent in five years can't afford to build its own headquarters and has to go to the taxpayers for help. The taxpayers, of course, will be told in the ramped-up campaign that a new or renovated arena will be a moneymaker for the city, which will lead to the question, "So if it's such a cash cow, why don't you build it yourself?"

Which will lead to the answer, "Because by threatening to move to Oklahoma City, which now seems like a much more realistic possibility because we're not Seattle people, we're Oklahoma City people who have clearly stated in the past that we want to bring an NBA team to our town permanently, we can really hold your elected officials' feet to the fire, since they do not want to be the elected officials who let the area's first professional franchise get away.

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"And by the way, we're planning to keep the money the new building makes anyway. And we'll still cry poor! Is this a great country or what?"

That won't be the out-loud answer. But it'll be the answer, all right.

I'm not being entirely fair here about Basketball Club of Seattle's profits. Because of inflation, the teams' appreciation in value from the 2001 sale to this week's was more like 58 percent than 75. The $200 million Schultz's group paid in 2001 is worth something like $222 million today, according to a consensus of online inflation calculators, which I'll admit isn't terribly scientific but gives a rough idea.

So, counting the reported $70 million in operational losses, debt financing and interest payments that the team claims -- and don't think that number can't be inflated when it serves a team's purpose, such as when crying poverty in arena talks with the city -- Basketball Club of Seattle's profit isn't $80 million, or $16 million a year, but somewhere between that and $58 million, or $11.6 million a year.

Poor Howard Schultz. The man has been bled dry by the basketball business! The least you can do is go buy an extra-double venti whatever thing.

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King County and Washington state residents have already coughed up $350 million to build Safeco Field for the Mariners and $300 million to build Qwest Field for the Seahawks. A poll in early June found an overwhelming majority of Seattle residents saying they'd rather let the Sonics leave town than use tax money on an improved arena.

We'll know in a year if the taxpayers' idea of where their money should go means anything in Seattle.

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Whom do you root for after a move? [PERMALINK]

"I don't want to sound like a child," writes reader Dave Bagley of Seattle, who heard the news Tuesday and began fearing the worst, "but what am I going to do if/when the Sonics move to Oklahoma City?

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They're the one and only team I root for in any sport. I could care less about the Seahawks or the damn Mariners or even the Huskies. Am I a Sonics fan no matter where they go or do I give up on the whole concept of rooting for a team?"

I'm always pleased to be asked a question to which I know the answer. The answer is I don't know.

The only team I've ever rooted for that moved away was the Los Angeles Rams, who left the City of Angels in 1995. But I'd done the same in 1981, and in the meantime the Rams had fallen on hard times -- I wasn't always feeling so well myself -- and I'd soured on the NFL for a while. So it didn't exactly sting. In fact I barely noticed.

I'd been gone from L.A. for so long that the Raiders had come and gone since my emigration.

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But let's see if there's wisdom out there in the crowd. What did you do? If you've ever had your one-true-love of a team move away from the town where you live, did you keep rooting from a distance? Adopt another team? Give up on the whole enterprise?

I'm looking for you, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants fans. I want to know what you Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns did before there was talk of a replacement franchise. I know there are hockey fans in Winnipeg and Hartford and Quebec with tales to tell.

I don't need to hear from hardcore Canadiens fans who occasionally took in an Expos games, but if you lost the one team you'd given your heart to, post your story in this column's letters section or, if you must, e-mail it to me. Keep it brief, please.

I'll collect the best responses and publish them in a future column.

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Previous column: Tour de France, T.O.

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