NBA fines McClendon for comments on moving Sonics
SEATTLE -- The NBA has fined Seattle SuperSonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon $250,000 for comments he made two weeks ago that his group didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle.
League spokesman Mark Broussard in New York confirmed the penalty Thursday morning, but said he did not immediately know the reason the fine was imposed. The comments of McClendon, an Oklahoma City energy tycoon, were at odds with commissioner David Stern's stated hope of keeping the Sonics in the city they've called home for all 40 years of their existence.
McClendon is one of four original partners with Clay Bennett in Professional Basketball Club LLC, the Oklahoma group that purchased the Sonics and WNBA's Storm for $350 million in July, 2006. This month, McClendon told an Oklahoma City publication that the group has always hoped to move the NBA franchise to Oklahoma, but he acknowledged the team could make more money in the Pacific Northwest.
"But we didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here," McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy, told The Journal Record in Oklahoma. "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."
The ownership group has set a deadline of Oct. 31 to secure an agreement for a new arena in the Seattle area. If a deal is not in place by then, Bennett has said will begin the league's process of relocation the Sonics to Oklahoma City.
McClendon's fine is comparable to those the NBA has assessed to Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban was fined twice during the 2006 playoffs, with the league penalizing him $250,000 after his outbursts during the league finals, when he yelled toward a referee and later toward Stern.
Cuban, who says he matches every dollar with a charitable donation, was fined $500,000 -- at the time the most against one person in the NBA -- in January 2002 for comments that included saying he wouldn't hire the league's head of officiating to manage a Dairy Queen.
A spokesman for McClendon at Chesapeake Energy said Thursday from Oklahoma City that McClendon's fine by the NBA is not a company issue and referred questions to the Sonics' ownership group.
"We respectfully decline to comment further about this matter," said Brent Gooden, a spokesman for Professional Basketball LLC.
Bennett and McClendon tried to calm the furor in Seattle the day after McClendon's comments were published. They issued a joint statement that called McClendon's comments his "personal thoughts." Bennett 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, though even he acknowledges no breakthrough is on the horizon.
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."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press