Stern: Sonics won't be replaced
If Seattle loses the Sonics, the city won't get another team, NBA commissioner David Stern said Thursday.
"I'd love to find a way to keep the team there," Stern said at a news conference in Phoenix. "Because if the team moves, there's not going to be another team there, not in any conceivable future plan that I could envision, and that would be too bad."
Sonics owner Clay Bennett announced last Friday he plans to move the team to Oklahoma City. The team has a lease to play in KeyArena through the 2009-10 season, but Bennett wants to leave after this season. When the team moves will depend on the outcome of litigation with the city over the lease.
Stern was in Phoenix on Thursday to announce that the 2009 All-Star Game would be played there. Afterward, at a news conference, he criticized the city of Seattle and the Washington Legislature for its handling of the issue of funding a replacement for KeyArena.
Stern repeated earlier criticism of Seattle's City Council for promoting a measure, overwhelmingly passed by voters, that requires any funds to help build an arena earn money at the same rate as a treasury bill.
That measure means there is no way city money would ever be used on an arena project, Stern said.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said he was disappointed by Stern's comments.
"Instead of firing verbal scuds at us, what we'd prefer is he take some of his own advice, sit down with us and work it out," Ceis said, adding that Mayor Greg Nickels' door is "wide open" to talk with Bennett or Stern about an arena solution.
Ceis said he was astonished by how differently Stern has treated the arena situation in Seattle compared to Sacramento.
Stern has taken mostly a hands-off approach in Seattle, but he has personally worked on negotiating possible new arenas for the Kings even after Sacramento voters last year rejected two ballot measures to fund a new arena.
"Here in Seattle he's doing everything he can to help Clay Bennett out the door," Ceis said.
For now, Ceis said the city will continue to pursue its lawsuit to force the Sonics to play out the KeyArena lease through 2010.
"We've got a lease, we're in court on that lease and we hope that Mr. Stern is not suggesting he is going to aid and abet Mr. Bennett in breaking that lease, because if he is that should make every other NBA city very nervous," he said.
After Stern was finished in Phoenix on Thursday, he traveled to Oklahoma City to present Bennett for his induction to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Before the ceremony Thursday night, Stern held an eight-minute news conference with Oklahoma City reporters and, according to a report by The Oklahoman, said Bennett and his ownership group had done everything possible to secure a new arena deal in Seattle. Stern called the efforts by Seattle politicians to do the same "hostile," according to The Oklahoman.
"I don't think it's a question of whether Clay put in the effort, because I know he made the best intensive lobbying efforts to date," Stern told The Oklahoman.
During his Phoenix news conference, Stern lamented that the Washington Legislature refused to even consider continuing a tax that helped fund Seattle's baseball and football stadiums.
"To have the speaker of the house say well, they just spend too much money on salaries anyway, so we need it for other things," Stern said, casts aspersions on the whole league's operations. "We get the message. Hopefully, maybe cooler heads will prevail."
Stern's comments were much tougher than the ones he made last June, when he said he believed the issue was "just going to work itself out."
As the issue becomes more contentious, Stern said he hopes "a white knight that hasn't existed before, somebody who has a building plan of how to keep the team there, will step forward."
Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics and Storm, says it's time for city and state political leaders to step forward.
"I'm very concerned about the mayor and the governor's lack of response," he said. "We have between now and April to put something on the table, and it would be absolutely disgraceful if there is not a formal plan of some kind offered by the city. They have to take a swing somewhere.
"It's a sign of weak government. We need the mayor and governor to come out and to solve this. I wonder if their lack of public commentary is because they're afraid to try and fail."
In the Oklahoma City ceremony, Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, another of the Sonics' Oklahoma ownership group, were each inducted into the hall. A bust will be erected and a portrait displayed for each at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum. In addition, Bennett, McClendon and the other six inductees will be recognized on granite monuments in the Heritage Plaza at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds.
Times staff reporters Jayda Evans and Jim Brunner contributed to this article.
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