Sale of Sonics approved to Bennett's group

Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 4:23 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ NBA owners unanimously approved the sale of the SuperSonics on Tuesday to a group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett, who says he wants to keep the team in Seattle.

Whether he does or not almost certainly depends on if he gets a new building.

Bennett's group purchased the SuperSonics and WNBA's Storm from the Basketball Club of Seattle, led by Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz, on July 18 for $350 million.

That brought immediate speculation that the team would be moved to Oklahoma City. But Bennett said his focus now is on getting a new arena in Seattle, and not on what will happen if he doesn't.

``We haven't really thought a lot about the end game as it relates to not getting the building,'' Bennett said. ``We're focused on getting the building and working hard on getting the building and we'll evaluate our business and our prospects as we go through the process.''

Bennett's group will take full control of the Sonics next Tuesday when the transaction is completed.

Seated next to NBA commissioner David Stern, Bennett said his preference is to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

``Our interest is in that marketplace and that economic model,'' he said.

That idea sounded like a long shot in the spring when Stern, frustrated by a lack of support from Washington lawmakers after a trip out there in February, said Seattle was ``not interested in having the NBA there.''

The commissioner has called the Sonics' lease deal at Key Arena the league's worst, and Schultz had threatened to move or sell the team when it expired after the 2010 season without a new or renovated arena.

Stern said Tuesday that he now has a ``sense of optimism'' about the potential of the Sonics having a long-term future in Seattle.

``I get the sense from the briefing from Clay that he has been _ without any promises received _ positively received,'' Stern said. ``It's a broader discussion that's on the table having to do with where the best place for an arena might be to keep this team in Seattle.

``It's far from a slam dunk, but at least the parties all know what the options are on the table.''

Stern worked with Bennett when Bennett served on the league's Board of Governors from 1992-97 while representing ownership of the San Antonio Spurs. The relationship was renewed last year, when the commissioner contacted Bennett about helping the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocate to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina.

His confidence in Bennett, the chairman of Dorchester Capital, along with the rest of the Professional Basketball Club LLC, is the reason he now thinks the NBA remains a viable option.

``Some of that is reflected from Clay, who is a pretty good businessman and is surrounded by a very strong ownership group,'' Stern said. ``They think that the opportunity in Seattle is worthy of a substantial investment in time and money and consultants and real estate people and lawyers and alike.

``We believe there's a decent shot here. They think that what they're hearing justifies them spending the time and the money on doing it and that makes me feel pretty good.''

Both Stern and Bennett cited Seattle's ties to the Far East, which remain important to the NBA. Stern said the owners also discussed ways the league could step up its efforts in Asia, particularly in China leading into the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Also, Stern said Miami Heat owner Micky Arison had been re-elected to another term as chairman of the board.