Schultz leaves bad taste with Seattle fans
Mike Kahn / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 2 hours ago SEATTLE —
So this was the five-year plan Howard Schultz really had in mind when he purchased the Seattle Sonics in 2001.
The chairman of Starbucks — along with some 60 locals — formed the Basketball Club of Seattle (LLC) to purchase the team from media mogul Barry Ackerley in 2001, promising an NBA title in five years.Tuesday afternoon, Schultz stood before that same assemblage and announced they had sold the Sonics and the WNBA's Storm to a group known as The Professional Basketball Club (LLC), which currently has five investors with more likely to come.
The group, led by Oklahoma City businessmen Clay Bennett and Ed Evans, paid $350 million, and the sale is expected to close by the end of October. But the biggest news is that the door is now open for the Sonics to move to Oklahoma City as early as the 2007-08 NBA season.
Seattle hoops fans show their displeasure over Tuesday's announcement. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
As Schultz and his partner/president/CEO Wally Walker waxed emptily about the pride and accomplishments of the Sonics and Storm, the only thing that really mattered was the way they seemed impervious to all the bad will that has permeated the region with their attitude toward the politics and media during the past five years. That, and the fact that they got paid $150 million more than the $200 million they paid Ackerley five-plus years ago.
Poor guys, Schultz and Walker went on-and-on about how difficult this day was and that they could have sold the team to men offering more money but didn't believe they would keep the team in Seattle. Schultz even went so far as to say it would have been disingenuous for them to do that since they want the team to stay here and that the climate had changed dramatically since they bought the team when they were naive. Since 2001? Oh, and by the way, Walker had already been president since 1995, brokered the original sale and knew everything about the lease.
It was all anyone could do not to cry: $%#@*% during the press conference.
Five minutes later, Bennett stood up and virtually said the 12-month process to move the team had just begun. The reality is that the only thing holding them back with the NBA once the deal is approved is the fact that they must apply to move by March 1, 2007. And as far as their lease with the City of Seattle until 2010, Seattle council members claim to have been losing money from every Sonics game the past three years; so a buyout seems not only a possibility, but its very likely.
"It is not our intention to move the teams … as long as we are able to arrange a successor venue in 12 months that allows the Sonics and Storm to compete in the present environment," Bennett said.
That comment landed with the weight of 10,000 pounds in the middle of the room. July 18, 2006, the alarm will sound. Count on it.
Perhaps Bennett was even too honest by publicly putting politicians on official notice.
Then again, the Seattle City Council made life impossible as the franchise attempted to upgrade the outdated 17,020-seat KeyArena, with ludicrous comments about the lack of value the Sonics brought to the area.
The politicians saw no urgency with four years left on the lease. Even more to the point is that Schultz claims the club has lost $60 million the past five years due to the horrid lease with the city that was agreed upon by Ackerley upon the building's renovation in 1995. That's not to mention the simple fact that Walker was already president of the team at that time but has so alienated everyone in the area that he couldn't accomplish anything politically beyond brokering the sale of the team from Ackerley to Schultz — then getting his Goldman Sachs buddies to make them a mint on the way out the door.
Meanwhile, neither man mentioned the tax breaks and depreciation that dwarfed that figure. Make no mistake — this was 100 percent about recouping money for all the partners and more.
Just as pertinent has been Bennett's role in bringing the Hornets to Oklahoma City last year when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans; and the 35 games were a rollicking success. The Hornets will again play in Oklahoma City this season, but next year they will return to New Orleans — as well as play host to the 2008 NBA All-Star game.
It doesn't take Albert Einstein to figure out that 12 months from now, unless some bizarre turn of events takes place in the wake of an expansion franchise or exchange of ownership, the Sonics will be loading up the trucks for Oklahoma City. Granted, there has been discussion with the Seattle suburbs of Bellevue and Renton to construct a new building for the Sonics, but unless the state legislature jumps on board very soon with money, the NBA is out of there.
Seattle mayor Greg Nickels said there were many negotiations with good faith offers, and he was disappointed with the way the ownership bailed on them without even talking to them about the past offers or that they were about to accept this one.
"We had numerous negotiating sessions," Nickels said in a press conference. "We're disappointed (that), rather than follow through on those offers, they decided to sell to out-of-town investors without responding."
There's a lot more to it than that. Good faith in these circumstances is nothing more than perception. Following reams of ludicrous rhetoric from Schultz, Seattle radio talk show host Dave Grosby, filled with outrage, commented, "I suppose a guy who convinced people to pay $3-$4 for a cup of coffee thinks he can get people to believe anything."
More to the point, he'll be remembered for squiring a group that, instead of winning a title (as he so blithely announced when he bought the team), made the playoffs only twice during his tenure. Even more disappointing was the way he and Walker ran both Gary Payton and Nate McMillan — two of the most popular and successful names in club history — out of town. All of this comes on the eve of what will be the 40th season of the flagship professional franchise in Seattle history.
And now, according to Bennett, the ticking began Tuesday afternoon on a 12-month clock on the area politicians to come up with an arena deal that will never be good enough.
Ironically, the Sonics (1979) and the WNBA's Storm (2004) trophies sat on opposite sides of the press conference table as attempts at celebration were futile considering the line of questioning during the 30-minute period.
Bennett, who was previously part of the San Antonio Spurs' ownership group, already pledged to bring a team to Oklahoma City. In all likelihood, NBA commissioner David Stern was behind the scenes pulling the strings as payback to Oklahoma City, as the affable hosts of the Hornets, and a message to Seattle for not playing ball his way.
Gary Payton, Nate McMillan, Lenny Wilkens, Jack Sikma, Shawn Kemp, Xavier McDaniel — the list goes on and on of great players who made this franchise special and the toast of the town for so many years. Now they're on the precipice of leaving Puget Sound without a basketball team for the first time since 1966. Indeed, Tuesday was a sad day in Seattle.
Leave it to the King of Coffee to leave everyone with a bad taste in their mouths.
Veteran NBA writer Mike Kahn is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
Whatcha gonna do when Huxamania runs wild on you?!!
the Oklahoma City Supersonics.
i alwys thought that "Supersonics" is a ridiculous team name.
but in connections with Oklahoma City it even tops that.
they should think of also renaming the team.
(but i have no idea what would be a archetypal name. Oklahoma Dust Bowlers?)
if they leave after 40 years in Seattle, that's a sad story though.
providing a new venue to play.
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