New owners intend to move Sonics if deal can't get done

Updated: August 13, 2007, 11:50 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma City energy tycoon says the group that purchased the Seattle SuperSonics hopes to move the NBA franchise to Oklahoma City, but he acknowledges the team could make more money in the Pacific Northwest.

They've got 60 days to make some decisions they haven't been willing to make in the past year, and if they make them in a way that satisfies [majority owner Clay Bennett], then the team will stay there. If they don't meet the requirements he's laid out, the team will move, and Clay has indicated they'll come to Oklahoma City.

Minority owner Aubrey McClendon

"But we didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here," Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy, told The Journal Record for a story in Monday's edition. "We know it's a little more difficult financially here in Oklahoma City, but we think it's great for the community and if we could break even, we'd be thrilled."

Majority owner Clay Bennett has set an Oct. 31 deadline for an agreement on a new arena in Seattle. Otherwise, he has promised to begin relocating the team. Kansas City also is considered an option as relocation; the city is looking for an anchor tenant for its new arena.

"They've got 60 days to make some decisions they haven't been willing to make in the past year," McClendon told the newspaper, "and if they make them in a way that satisfies Clay, then the team will stay there. If they don't meet the requirements he's laid out, the team will move, and Clay has indicated they'll come to Oklahoma City."

Bennett issued a statement Tuesday calling the comments McClendon's "personal thoughts" and said McClendon was "not speaking on behalf of the ownership group."

"It is my hope we will see a breakthrough in the next 60 days that will result in securing a new arena for the Sonics and Storm in the Greater Seattle area," Bennett said.

McClendon said he, Bennett and others in the ownership group became interested in purchasing an NBA team after the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City for two seasons after Hurricane Katrina.

"We started to look around, and at that time the Sonics were going through some ownership challenges in Seattle," McClendon told the newspaper. "So Clay, very artfully and skillfully, put himself in the middle of those discussions and to the great amazement and surprise to everyone in Seattle, some rednecks from Oklahoma, which we've been called, made off with the team."

Bennett's group bought the Sonics a year ago, saying the arena at the Seattle Center was outdated as the home for the NBA franchise and the WNBA's Seattle Storm.

In a statement issued earlier this month, Bennett said KeyArena -- the Sonics' current home and the smallest venue in the NBA -- is not an option for the team.

He said the Sonics' ownership group had hoped Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels would rally support to find a solution.

"Instead he focused on unworkable concepts that are not acceptable," Bennett said in his statement, adding that he hopes other civic leaders step up.

This year, the Legislature convened without authorizing any tax money to help build a new arena.

Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman, issued a "call to action" last month, asking for offers to help save the team.

Nickels said earlier this month that if the Sonics were willing to put $100 million into a new arena or the KeyArena, then the city might be able to match it. Bennett has set an Oct. 31 deadline for an agreement on a new arena. Otherwise, he has promised to begin relocating the team.

"They take pride in Seattle not needing an NBA team to be considered a world-class city. That's probably true -- they don't," McClendon told The Journal Record.

"But I think for Oklahoma City to distance itself from other midsize cities, I think enthusiastic support of a well-run, successful NBA team says a lot about the spirit of this community. We've got a can-do spirit, and we've got a fan base that's turned out. This is a sports town; nobody ever knew it was a pro sports town. I think it is."

McClendon backed away from his comments slightly Tuesday in a statement released jointly with Bennett, saying "it has always been my hope that Oklahoma City would have an NBA team someday" but the No. 1 goal was to keep the teams in Seattle.

"The comment about my personal hopes cannot in any way be interpreted to mean the organization has not exhaustively pursued every reasonable avenue to get an arena deal done and keep the Sonics and Storm in Seattle," McClendon said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.