OKC mayor refutes story on Sonics move

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Mayor Mick Cornett said the suggestion that Oklahoma City officials have spoken with members of the Seattle SuperSonics' ownership group about a possible move is "preposterous."

Cornett told the Associated Press the city's official position regarding its attempts to land an NBA franchise have not changed.

"We're not proactively pursuing any specific franchise right now and don't feel like it's appropriate to do so," Cornett said. "... We are poised and ready (and) if a franchise becomes available, we will pursue it vigorously."

The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., citing a Sonics employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported Saturday that Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman and the leader of the team's ownership group, told team employees during a meeting last week that Oklahoma City would pay the team's expenses should it relocate to the Sooner State.

The newspaper reported that during the meeting, Bennett offered details of what Oklahoma City would do if the team tried to relocate, including paying legal fees involving the team's possible attempt to break its lease at Seattle's KeyArena, any settlement to buy out the lease and relocation fees assessed by the NBA.

Bennett told the Tacoma newspaper last week that his comments were only hypothetical.

"The context of my response was after being asked the question 'How could Oklahoma City possibly be a competitive market to Seattle?'" Bennett said. "And my answer is because Oklahoma City is a medium marketplace that highly values the opportunity to obtain an NBA franchise, not unlike any community or any state would value the pursuit of any other highly additive economic development opportunity, such as the value of a manufacturing plant or corporate headquarters."

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Bennett, said Wednesday that Bennett would have no further comment on the issue.

Cornett said the story "just seemed to indicate that we had discussed a relocation of the Sonics to Oklahoma City, and we have not." He said city officials "are certainly aware of what's going on in Seattle, but it's not appropriate to have the level of discussion that that article said (Bennett) had (with Oklahoma City). I found it preposterous."

Cornett acknowledged that he speaks frequently with Bennett "about what's going on in the city ... but we also know what's appropriate and what's not. Clay is going to do what he said he was going to do. I knew that from the moment he said he would try to get a deal in Seattle."

The Sonics' ownership group has set a deadline of Oct. 31 to secure an agreement for a new arena in the Seattle area. If a deal is not in place by then, Bennett has said he will begin the process of relocating the Sonics to Oklahoma City, which served as the temporary home the past two seasons for the New Orleans Hornets after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The Sonics' lease at KeyArena runs through 2010. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Bennett have spent much of the past month arguing about the team's future.


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