Sonics tell NBA of intent to move SuperSonics to Oklahoma City

Updated: November 3, 2007, 1:20 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The Seattle SuperSonics' new owner told the NBA on Friday that he plans to move the team to Oklahoma City.

Clay Bennett had set a Wednesday deadline for having a plan to replace KeyArena, which he says is outdated. He and the city are in a dispute about the arena lease.

He has until March 1 to file for relocation with the NBA if he wants the team to play the 2008-09 season anywhere besides Seattle. The Sonics are the city's oldest major professional sports franchise.

So Long, Seattle

If the Supersonics are allowed to relocate from Seattle to Oklahoma City, it would be the third time this decade that an NBA team has pulled up stakes. Others to do so in the last three decades:

Switching Surroundings
    Old city New city
2002 Hornets Charlotte New Orleans
2001 Grizzlies Vancouver Memphis
1985 Kings Kansas City Sacramento
1984 Clippers San Diego Los Angeles
1979 Jazz New Orleans Salt Lake City
1978 Clippers Buffalo San Diego

Bennett briefly backed off his deadline, not wanting to distract from the start of the season. He watched Thursday night's home opener against Phoenix from his suite, spending most of the second half chatting with Hall of Famer Bill Russell while fans chanted "Save our Sonics!" during the game.

"Today we notified commissioner [David] Stern that we intend to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma City if we succeed in the pending litigation with the city, or are able to negotiate an early lease termination, or at the end of the lease term," Bennett said in a lengthy statement.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed the league received notice and is referring the matter to the owners' relocation committee.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said the latest development was "no surprise'' and the state will "continue to work with others on the arduous process'' of keeping the Sonics and the WNBA's Storm.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett called the news a "significant step'' but urged caution.

"The history of sports is littered with franchises that intended to relocate, said they would relocate and for whatever reason didn't relocate,'' said Cornett, a former television sportscaster. "Things change. I don't anticipate anything changing, but things do change.''

Bennett became owner just more than a year ago and also owns the WNBA's Seattle Storm. He bought the Sonics from a local group led by Starbucks Coffee chairman Howard Schultz for $350 million and has said the club is not for sale. Schultz, also unhappy with KeyArena, and his group paid $200 million for the team in 2001.

Caple: 'Cash-Us Clay'

Clay Bennett's announcement that he wants to move the Sonics is an elaborate game of truth or dare, writes Jim Caple. Story

Bennett is trying to void the final two years of the lease. The city wants to hold the Sonics to the agreement, which calls for the team to play at KeyArena through the 2009-10 season.

Bennett said the team lost $17 million last year because of the lease. The Sonics had sought arbitration to decide the matter, but this week a federal judge blocked the team from seeking an escape through arbitration. That kept alive the city's attempts to gain a court order forcing the Sonics to play in Seattle.

Bennett championed a proposal this year for a new arena in the suburb of Renton that called for about $300 million in public money. The plan failed to get backing in the state Legislature.

"We now understand and respect that there is very limited public support for such a public investment," Bennett said.

Bennett long has said he had no intention of splitting the Sonics and Storm, but appeared to hedge on that Friday. He said plans are not set for the WNBA team, which will play the 2008 season in Seattle.

"Mr. Bennett's announcement today is a transparent attempt to alienate the Seattle fan base and follow through on his plan to move the team to Oklahoma City. The deadline for notifying the league of his intent to move is March 1," Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said. "Making this move now continues the current ownership's insulting behavior toward the Sonics' dedicated fans and the citizens of the city."

Sonics 'intend to relocate'

Statement from Seattle SuperSonics & Storm chairman Clayton I. Bennett: Story

"The move today was no surprise," Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said. "We continue to work with others on the arduous process of keeping the Sonics and Storm in Seattle."

A few hours before Bennett's announcement, a group of local investors offered to buy the Sonics and keep the city's oldest major league professional sports franchise from moving.

The group headed by Dennis H. Daugs, a private wealth manager and managing director of Lakeside Capital Management LLC, issued a news release Friday saying it had written a formal letter of interest to Bennett.

"We want to recapture the spirit and love of basketball in Seattle by bringing the Sonics and Storm back to local ownership," said Daugs, a former minority owner of the NBA franchise.

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Bennett, had no comment on Daugs' offer, other than to reiterate that the "teams are not for sale."

"This town loves the Sonics and Storm," Daugs said in the statement. "We have a genuine appreciation of the fan base. We respect the many loyal fans and we want to build a populist movement to keep the teams here. We believe there is strong local support for the Sonics and Storm."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press