Till Seattle gets an expansion franchise (hint: sometime before 2020) they can laugh their asses off at OKC owner Clayton Bennett and the collapse of the Thunder. Quid pro quo mofo.
Radio Sports Talk Guy will spend the week abusing the question “will he get his touches?” as if Kevin Durant is Roman Polanski at a hot tub convention. Fear not concerned caller, KD and Steph and Klay and Dray will all figure out — as professionals do — how to share the ball.
The real question for the Warriors is will Kevin Durant — the genial, loping, laconic giant and a superstar who’s yet to shine on the game’s biggest stage — bring his N.B.A. superstar pedigree goodwill to the team that seems to only draw the ire of the league’s refs and disciplinary figureheads (looking at you Kiki Vandeweghe)? My guess is KD, who has toiled in the town mostly known as the place where you can no longer buy more than a single bag of fertilizer, will finally get his due within the next season or two.
KD’s real eff you is not to the OKC faithful as much as it is to Clayton Bennett, the Oklahoma City-based
businessman robber baron who bullied Seattle into surrendering their beloved SuperSonics after duping long-suffering fans of the franchise of Dennis Johnson and Lenny Wilkens, of Shawn Kemp and the X Man into believing that he would deliver them a new stadium even though he never, ever — ever intended to stay.
Bennett bought the team from Howard Schultz in 2006 after the Starbucks founder tried for a half decade to get into a new arena. Schultz, it should be noted, wasn’t long for the world of NBA ownership. From 2001-’03 he was a passionate and enigmatic owner. But like fellow denizen titans of the Pac Northwest, (think: Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen) if something doesn’t go his way, his distaste soon takes over.
It started with the players. Schultz did not like Seattle’s perennial All Star point guard Gary Payton and publicly decried the behavior of 1990’s second overall pick and his entourage — calling the franchise’s face for more than a decade selfish and self-absorbed.
When GP lived up to his rep by not showing up for training camp in 2002, Schultz shipped him off and #20 finished his career as a journeyman with the Bucks, Lakers and Heat among others.
That same summer, contract talks with forward Rashard Lewis (<–still in the league btw) another fan favorite, also soured and soon the team’s fortunes began to fade as its perennial stars began to leave for other orbits.
During the 2007 draft, hope sprung anew with (once again) the second overall pick. This time it was a gangly teen out of the University of Texas by the name of Kevin Durant who at 6’10” could play shooting guard, small forward and even center. Though he was skinnier than a Starbucks stirring stick, Durant was immediately recognized as what’s next in the N.B.A. Size, handles, quicks, agility and the ability to shoot, defend and rebound. A perimeter player trapped in the body of a center — or was it the other way around?
Seattle finally had a cornerstone superstar with which to build its team around. Now to just get a stadium and a resurgence in the town that was going through a tech renaissance of its own would be complete. Schultz wanted public funds for the arena and he thought the notion for a town that had helped fund stadia for the Mariners and Seahawks would be easier to swallow than a Macchiato. It wasn’t.
Washington’s tax paying public had had enough of giving billionaire owners bailouts with taxes and Schultz made the mistake of threatening to sell the team just four days before the Seahawks were to appear in the 2005 Super Bowl (XL) against the Steelers. The state legislature rejected Schultz’s demands for public subsidies that same month and left an opening for Bennett’s investment group to swoop in.
What makes Bennett the bad guy is at the time of the deal he agreed to leave the team in Seattle, unequivocally. He had no such intention.
At the time the sale was inked, Bennett, in a letter to Schultz, appeared to be on the up and up: “it is our desire to have the Sonics and the Storm [the WNBA team included in the deal which ultimately did stay] continue their existence in the Greater Seattle Area, and it is not our intention to move or relocate the teams so long, of course, as we are able to negotiate an attractive successor venue and lease arrangement.”
Though Bennett and his group did a scarecrow negotiation with Renton, Wa. for the construction of a new $500 million arena, they knew that the Washington legislature would refuse to put up taxpayer money — and they did so by voting down any subsidy in 2007. In the meantime, Bennett and his group, as far back as 2006. was sending emails orchestrating the team’s move to Oklahoma City — ASAP.
Tom Ward [another owner]: “Is there any way to move here for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?”
Bennett: “I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started!”
…As soon as the public funds were voted down in Washington, Bennett’s group moved to get ditch its lease with KeyArena (then set through 2010) and notified the NBA that it intended to move the team to Oklahoma City and requested arbitration with the city of Seattle to be released.
When the request was rejected by a judge, Seattle sued Bennett’s group to enforce the lease. In 2008, Schultz also filed suit against the new owners to rescind the sale. His intention was to force Bennett to give up the team so he could resell it to someone who truly did intend to keep the Sonics in Seattle, namely Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer.
But the dominoes fell quickly in Bennett’s favor. As all the suing was going on in Seattle, Oklahoma City voters fast tracked a $120 million bond to retrofit the downtown arena and build a new state-of-the-art practice facility.
On March 21, 2008, Bennett came clean and said he would relocate the team and drop all rights to SuperSonics name, color scheme etc. On April 18, 2008, NBA owners, a collusive bunch if there is any, gave approval for moving the franchise from Seattle to Oklahoma City for the 2008–2009 season pending the outcome of the city’s case to uphold the lease and Schultz’s group dropping their lawsuit.
Under threat of impeding the team’s current NEW 15-year lease in Oklahoma City, Schultz capitulated. On July 2, 2008, Bennett’s ownership group also settled with the city of Seattle and things were cleared for tip-off in OKC.
Starting in 2009, the Thunder have made every post-season, advancing to the conference finals four times and the N.B.A. finals once — losing 4-1 to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.
Durant has no taste for James and wanted to stay on the West Coast. He vibed with Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green & co. over some drinks last week in NY extending the mutual respect for one another earned during the seven-game conference finals last month.
In the meantime, Oklahoma City fans took to the streets on the 4th of July to participate in the obligatory free-agent jersey burn. But those fans should take note of history and recognize that theirs was the franchise that burned one of the league’s best and most fervent cities less than a decade ago.
Payback, in other words, is a bitch.
P.s. Hang in there Sonics fans, this from league commissioner Adam Silver’s recent appearance at South by Southwest (or, if you’re a cool kid with a twitter SXSW): We had great teams in Seattle, a great history of basketball there. I personally love the city, I spend a lot of time there. The issue for the NBA, right now, is that in part, for the very reasons we talked about, every team in essence can have a global following. The need to expand a global footprint by physically putting a team in another market becomes less important from a league standpoint, and therefore, the way the owners see expansion at the moment is really the equivalent of selling equity in the league.