If NBA Team Comes To Oklahoma City, New Practice Facility Will Be Likely

Friday, April 20th 2007, 7:47 pm
By: News On 6

BETHANY, Okla. (AP) _ For the past two years, Southern Nazarene University's Sawyer Center provided most of what the New Orleans Hornets needed in a practice facility.

But if Oklahoma City is to become a permanent home for an NBA team, Mayor Mick Cornett knows a taxpayer-funded facility likely will have to be built.

``In the 2007 context, if you're dealing with an NBA team, there is going to be an expectation of a practice facility,'' Cornett said. ``We realize that's an entry-level part of negotiation.''

When the Hornets arrived in Oklahoma City just weeks before the 2005-06 season, finding a suitable facility in which to practice was near the top of their list of priorities.

``When the Hornets first walked in (to the Sawyer Center), I said, 'I bet you're looking for a practice facility.' We sat down and kind of went from there,'' Southern Nazarene athletic director Bobby Martin said.

SNU, a 2,200-student school that is a member of the NAIA, offered the Hornets the use of their 5,000-seat facility in this Oklahoma City suburb for free. Martin said that once the Hornets began turning a profit in Oklahoma City, they paid the school for its use.

A suite on the facility's third floor that overlooks the playing floor was converted into a temporary team office, and SNU gave the Hornets exclusive use of a locker room. The Hornets also were able to use the weight room and laundry facility at the Sawyer Center.

``As far as the floor and workout places, it's a high standard as far as the NBA is considered,'' Hornets coach Byron Scott said Friday as he sat in the arena's stands. ``You've got a lot of practice facilities around the league ... and this one right here is probably in the middle of them. This has been a great place for us.''

Martin acknowledges being a bit leery at first of allowing an NBA team to use the Sawyer Center but said ``the Hornets have been so much better than I could have expected or hoped for. They have been gentlemen through and through.''

Having the Hornets use the Sawyer Center as their practice facility has provided other ancillary benefits as well, both for SNU coaches and the university. Martin, who coached at SNU for 17 seasons, said that he enjoyed talking basketball with Scott ``and seeing how much coaching at all levels is alike.''

Also, Martin said, SNU has been featured on national television shows and in national media publications, ``places we might not have ever been before. Without a doubt, that's good for the university.''

Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said the team enjoyed being around a college atmosphere.

``I can't imagine any team finding people that are more genuine and more sincere to work with than they have here,'' Bower said.

Martin said that if another NBA team moved to Oklahoma City, he wouldn't be opposed to allowing the Sawyer Center to be used by the team on a temporary basis, ``but I wouldn't go out looking for it. I'd discuss it with them and see where it went.''

The Seattle SuperSonics' bid for a new arena won't receive a vote by the Washington Legislature before its current session ends, and owner Clay Bennett _ who is an Oklahoma City businessman _ has a clause in his lease that allows him to move the team after Oct. 31 if a new arena isn't built.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has said Oklahoma City is the No. 1 town on the league's list of candidates should a team relocate.

Hornets owner George Shinn, who is seeking a new practice facility as part of the team's lease in New Orleans, has said such a facility could cost $20 million. When the Cleveland Cavaliers announced plans for a new practice facility in August, a similar price tag was mentioned.

Cornett said the city is ``not proactively seeking any particular team'' but that if one came, ``we would want to do what's appropriate. There's a business model out there.''

Cornett defended the idea of using taxpayer money for such a facility, citing a study by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce that noted the Hornets' economic impact on Oklahoma City during their first season in the Sooner State was $60 million.