"All things being equal," the Sonics' chairman says, "I really wanted to stay here. I really did."
By "here" he means Seattle, where the Sonics have resided since 1967. He says it was not his intention to move the franchise to his home, Oklahoma City, which, considering his use of the past tense of the verb "want," now seems likely.
I had never met Bennett before our recent interview, so I didn't know whether to believe him. But individuals within the Sonics' organization I've known for a while -- and trusted for as long as I've known them -- swear that he is telling the truth. General manager
Based on those testimonies and a few others, then, I'm going to take Bennett at his word.
Certainly no one doubts Bennett on this point: He
So, let's review. Bennett bought the team intending to stay in Seattle. But he wouldn't stay in Seattle as long as the team played in what he considers an outdated, impossible-to-turn-a-profit KeyArena, which lacks, in his words, "premium seating, corporate suites, entertainment amenities, suites, loges suites, any configuration of premium product that extracts the higher market."
It's difficult to comprehend that a businessman as astute as Bennett, who made a fortune with Dorchester Capital, a private investment company, would believe that he has a deal for a new arena when he does not.
But there's the rub: Bennett never believed he had an arena deal -- rather, he believed he had the
Where "leverage" ends and "threat" begins is hard to say, of course.
"I misjudged the political climate, even given a very passionate corps of fans," Bennett says. "I misjudged the lack of broad public support for public money to invest in an arena."
There is little doubt, too, that the Bennett team made some public relations gaffes along the way, as when his partner and minority owner
Bennett and his team are also hypersensitive to any hint that Oklahoma City is not an NBA market. It seems like a reasonable point to bring up, even given the city's solid performance in hosting the Katrina-ravaged New Orleans Hornets, but they don't want you to bring it up.
"Basically, I disagree with the premise of your question," he said when I asked him whether OKC would be OK with the NBA. "You're coming at it from the perspective that Oklahoma City is necessarily an inferior market."
Actually, it was neither premise nor perspective -- it was a question. Bennett went on to laud Seattle --
"It's been my experience -- and I am new -- that how players spend their days is really focused around the game, how they connect with each other, how the coaches connect with them," Bennett says. "That is ultimately much more important than
Right now, the comments of the Sonics' primary young investment, rookie swingman
That's the way he should be thinking. He has too much on his mind (Seattle's 0-5 start for one thing) to deal with the distraction of relocation. But there is a whole layer of other people -- families, agents, endorsement reps -- who are concerned with where a player is playing. And, ultimately, veteran players care very much where they play.
Add all this up and it seems like the Sonics are goners, either after this season (if Bennett has his way and is able to break the lease) or after the 2010 season (when the team is contractually able to bolt). But because Bennett is a man of his word (so I'm told) and says he really wants to stay, and because the city fathers and the fans want the Sonics to stay, I have to believe there's a chance they will stay. Perhaps the city will give in to the idea of building an arena when the moving trucks, all bearing Oklahoma license plates, are backed up to the Furtado Center. At this point, that's what it might take.