Oklahoma City's near neighbor, Tulsa, eager for new team

Updated: April 22, 2008, 5:57 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor congratulated Oklahoma City officials on Tuesday for landing an NBA franchise and said there's no reason people in her town can't support the state's pro basketball team.

Taylor, speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon in downtown Oklahoma City, said that what benefits Oklahoma City also benefits Tulsa. She said that's why she was glad to support Oklahoma City's efforts to attract a major-league franchise.

That process was realized last Friday, when the NBA Board of Governors voted 28-2 to approve the relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City, pending the result of a federal court case in Washington state.

Seattle officials want the team to fulfill the final two years of its lease there, while the team's Oklahoma City-based ownership group would prefer to negotiate a buyout to that lease. The Sonics are legally bound to come to Oklahoma City under a lease that takes effect as soon as the Seattle lease is fulfilled.

"It really puts Oklahoma on a national map, and that's what's important, and it continues to grow the economy of Oklahoma City, which helps Tulsa," Taylor said of the Sonics' impending move. "We are the two most significant contributors to the state economy. Anything that we can do to help Oklahoma City's economy expand is good for Tulsa."

Tulsa and Oklahoma City are connected by an 86-mile-long turnpike, but the state's two largest cities have long had what sometimes has been a not-so-friendly rivalry. Both Taylor and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said that 20 years ago, it would have been unlikely for leaders in one town to support a major initiative of the other.

But Taylor, who grew up in Oklahoma City, didn't hesitate when officials from Oklahoma City and the SuperSonics asked her to be a part of the team's March 25 presentation to members of the league's relocation committee.

Her presence -- and the role Tulsa-area residents could play in supporting an Oklahoma City franchise -- was noted by NBA commissioner David Stern. During a press conference following last Friday's vote, Stern mentioned Tulsa a half-dozen times.

Stern said the owners learned "how close Tulsa is" to Oklahoma City "and how many citizens of Tulsa will consider the team to be, and did consider the [New Orleans] Hornets when they were there ... a state franchise."

Cornett said 10 to 20 percent of the Sonics' ticket sales in Oklahoma City will come from the Tulsa area, and Taylor noted that it's "90 minutes door-to-door" from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Those numbers are why Cornett said it only made sense to include Tulsa leaders as part of Oklahoma City's presentation to the NBA.

"When you talk to NBA owners, the idea of people driving 1 hours to an NBA game is something they're comfortable with," Cornett said. Including Tulsa as part of the team's sphere of influence meant the owners would "see a larger metropolitan area that they're more comfortable with."

But just because the team will be marketed throughout Oklahoma does not mean that Oklahoma City officials aren't somewhat territorial, at least when it comes to how the team will be identified. Stern said Friday the team might consider using "Oklahoma" as its name, noting that "you really see a much larger market than just the Oklahoma City market."

Cornett quickly squashed such a notion, pointing out that Oklahoma City's signed lease with the Sonics stipulates that the team name be "Oklahoma City."

"We had allowed ourselves through the years to be branded through our tragedies," Cornett said. "I wanted Oklahoma City identified with something more positive ... to increase Oklahoma City's identity and branding, which had never been done before."

Taylor said she has no problem with the team calling itself "Oklahoma City."

"I understand that. I wouldn't want the Tulsa Drillers to be called the Oklahoma Drillers," she said, referring to her city's minor-league baseball team. "I know different states have dealt with that issue, but I think the most important thing is that Oklahoma has shown that it can be home to a major-league team. It's exciting for all of us."

Clay Bennett, the chairman of the Sonics' ownership group, said the team believes it should be named Oklahoma City, "but it will be an Oklahoma asset. It will be marketed statewide, and we believe it will be supported statewide."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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