View from Oklahoma City: Goodbye Hornets, welcome Sonics
Buy up that Hornets memorabilia, Oklahoma City.
All of it's about to become collector's items.
Sure, the New Orleans Hornets still call Oklahoma City home, and the Sonics still call Seattle home, even though their new owners call Oklahoma City home. Got all that? But after an ownership group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics on Tuesday, it's difficult to believe all of this will end any differently.
The Hornets will go back to New Orleans.
The Sonics will come to Oklahoma City.
Could be in a year. Could be two. But eventually, the moving vans will arrive in Oklahoma City, some ferrying the Hornets out, others carrying the Sonics in.
It'll be a sad day for many Oklahomans who have grown attached to the Hornets. Your first love, after all, is always the strongest. Your heart does the thinking, not your head.
So, let's stop for a moment and think.
Would losing the Hornets and gaining the Sonics be so bad?
Bidding adieu to Chris Paul will stink. It's not only that the kid is a certifiable stud but also that he is a guy everyone loves. Men want to be him. Women just want him. And kids, well, they think he's second only to Santa Claus.
He's a hoops star, a sex symbol and a teddy bear all rolled into one.
Already, though, Oklahoma City has seen how quickly things can change with an NBA team. Speedy Claxton is gone. Ditto for PJ Brown and J.R. Smith. More players will come and go. It's the nature of the beast.
So, losing the Hornets means losing Paul.
It also means losing an owner who has no local ties beyond really liking the locals' money, who has a history of goofiness and who is as unpredictable as a Tasmanian devil. Watching George Shinn in action is good fun, but he leaves something to be desired when you're wanting stability.
With the Sonics and the Bennett-led ownership group, stability would be one of the biggest positives for Oklahoma City. Bennett's previous involvement with the NBA came with the San Antonio Spurs, for which he once sat on the board of directors. He learned from the best franchise on the planet. Why tinker too much with what works?
The Spurs aren't owned by the city of San Antonio, not in the way the Green Bay Packers are civically owned, but they come mighty close. The Spurs have a group of more than a dozen investors, most of whom have business ties to San Antonio. They have a board of directors that runs the team and a chairman who is the franchise's face.
It follows a business model seen in many corporations, but the whole set-up is also a safeguard. It protects against an individual owner from being persuaded by outsiders to sell the team.
All the Spurs have done is become the NBA's flagship franchise and arguably the best in all of professional sports.
Why did it work in San Antonio?
The franchise was committed to the community, and the community was committed to the franchise.
No reason to think the formula couldn't be duplicated in Oklahoma City.
For starters, Bennett is a diehard Oklahoman. He spoke passionately that day last fall when the Hornets announced they were relocating to the city. He loved the idea that his state, his city, his home was getting a major-league franchise that he long thought it deserved.
With the Sonics, the franchise-community bond would be strong.
And while losing the Hornets would mean losing Paul, there's reason to believe the Sonics would go after guys like him. If Bennett and Co. follow the Spurs' example, they will pump most of the profits back into the team and go after big-time ballplayers who happen to be character guys.
Hey, when players are coming into your hometown, living down the street, going to school with your kids and shopping for groceries alongside your wife, you tend to shy away from hoodlums.
The Spurs brought in character guys. Sure, there was that brief union with Dennis Rodman — as most of his marriages tend to be — but the Spurs have had more good apples than rotten. George Gervin. David Robinson. Sean Elliott.
Even today's team keeps its collective nose remarkably clean. Tim Duncan. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobili. Bruce Bowen. Michael Finley. About the worse thing you can say about the bunch is that Duncan is a crybaby on the court.
Frankly, there are about 29 other teams who would like to have that as their chief character concern.
Oklahoma City can look forward to a similar collection of players with the Sonics.
Of course, there's a chance that the Hornets could stay in Oklahoma City and the Sonics could stay in Seattle, but here's guessing that won't happen now. The NBA can follow through with what it has long sworn it would do in sending the Hornets back to New Orleans after next season, and it can have a franchise in Oklahoma City, in what looks like a gold mine of profit.
The only fly in the ointment would be if Seattle voters opt to build the Sonics a new arena. That's about the only way they're staying there; and frankly, if passing that bond issue has been difficult before, it became nearly impossible Tuesday. If the fine folks in Seattle wouldn't build an arena for Mr. Seattle, Starbucks' grand barista Howard Schultz, why would they do it for a bunch of Oklahomans?
If the new owners were from Spokane or Walla Walla, well, then OK. But Nichols Hills and Oklahoma City? Seems it would be difficult to agree to spending millions on an arena that might not have a tenant when it's finished.
So, Oklahoma City, it will be sad to see the Hornets leave. You will shed tears. You will feel empty. Things will be different, from the uniforms to the starting lineup intros to the songs on the PA to the games in the arena.
But the Sonics will grow on you. They will not be your first love, but give it time, Oklahoma City. You will love again.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company