Stern questions Seattle's commitment to Sonics

Updated: April 14, 2006, 9:28 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- David Stern gave another warning that the SuperSonics could eventually leave Seattle, saying Thursday that the city is, "not interested in having the NBA there."

The NBA commissioner also touched on the situations regarding the Trail Blazers and Hornets during a conference call, but his strongest words were saved for the Sonics' future in Seattle.

Stern has said the Sonics' lease with the city is the worst in the NBA, and he went to Seattle in February to ask Washington state lawmakers for tax money to renovate Key Arena.

Sonics owner Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks Corp., has threatened to move or sell the team if state lawmakers don't approve a sales-tax package to pay for a new or renovated arena. But state lawmakers last month said there would be no deal this year.

"... They're not interested in having the NBA there. ... we understand that there are competing issues, and the mayor is free to make whatever decisions he needs to make and I support that. But that's a pretty strong signal and I think that the existing ownership has said they don't want to own a team that's not in Seattle, so I know what they're in the process of doing. "
NBA Commissioner David Stern

"I would say that the city is making it pretty clear of what they want us to do, and we'll accommodate them," Stern said.

Asked what that meant, Stern responded: "What I mean is they're not interested in having the NBA there. We understand that, we understand that there are competing issues, and the mayor is free to make whatever decisions he needs to make and I support that.

"But that's a pretty strong signal and I think that the existing ownership has said they don't want to own a team that's not in Seattle, so I know what they're in the process of doing. So we'll just see how this play ends."

Marianne Bichsel, spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Nickels, said the city wants the Sonics to remain in Seattle.

"The mayor has made it perfectly clear in several interviews given, the Sonics have been in Seattle for 40-plus years, and we would like them around another 40-plus years and we'd like them at Key Arena," she said. "We're in discussions with the Sonics a lot about the situation, but we have a lease through 2010 and we fully expect that the lease will be honored."

The Sonics declined comment on Stern's quotes.

But once the lease expires in 2010, it doesn't sound as if the league would stand in the way if ownership wants to move the franchise.

"It's not a very good lease, to say the least it's the worst in the league," Stern said. "The city says they're not prepared to do anything to improve it. I don't think this is a difficult choice."

Also, Stern said he would "never say never" to getting involved again in the situation in Portland. The NBA recently pulled out of the process of trying to help find one buyer for both the Trail Blazers and the Rose Garden because it was frustrated by Portland Arena Management, the lenders who now own the arena.

And he repeated that the Hornets will return to New Orleans, even if investors from Oklahoma buy a minority share of the team from George Shinn, saying that he didn't even know how the Hornets would get out of their lease with the city.

"I have no idea," he said, "because we're not planning to break it."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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