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Agonized Musings About the NBA and Oklahoma City
September 23, 2007, 8:00 am
Filed under: Sports | Tags: , , , ,

Let it be known that my viewpoint about this isn’t necessarily popular, but that’s why I now have a blog — to get occasionally unpopular ideas (that have largely to do with anything involving a ball of some sort) off my chest.

I’d love to have an NBA team in Oklahoma City permanently.

But I DON’T want the Seattle Supersonics. Hosting the New Orleans Hornets for two years was a great experience, but that team was not meant to stay here. I think New Orleans is entitled to the chance to see if it can support an NBA team in this post-Katrina era. Give it X number of seasons and if New Orleans cannot cut the mustard, then talk about permanent relocation, but don’t — DON’T — try to take a franchise from a city while its hurting, something that Oklahomans have been accused of. Speaking for myself only, I was NOT one of those.

Why I don’t feel good about this:

1. The Sonics have been entrenched in their market for decades and has an incredibly rich history. I am adult enough to know that big business does not recognize things like history, tradition and sentimentality, but with the Sonics there’s that extra baggage that wouldn’t be there if this were, say, Memphis or Charlotte being discussed here. Unfortunately, when big business intervenes with something that is loved, what happens kind of unfolds like a prison movie and you can use your imagination from here.

Judging by message board traffic, Oklahoma is the ninth level of Hell and Clay Bennett — the OKC-based businessman who leads the group that acquired the Sonics over a year ago — is the Devil himself. If I was a Sonics lifer I’d be pissed too. Hell, I live 20 minutes away from Bennett’s hometown and the only thing I can do is shake my head and think that if Oklahoma wants to raise its profile, there seem to be better ways to do it than by alienating the fanbase of the team that you bought by a) being inflexible; b) proposing a hopelessly expensive successor venue to the “inadequate” Key Arena; and to a lesser extent c) that whole Lenny Wilkens thing.

2. Would the Sonics be as embraced by Oklahoma City as the Hornets were? Remember, there were tragic, extenuating circumstances that led to the Hornets being moved here temporarily in 2005. This is absolutely not the case with the Sonics, about whom the only thing approaching “tragic” might have been their W-L record last season.

3. Doesn’t it just seem a little bit odd that the head of the Sonics ownership group is married into the family that runs the most powerful newspaper in the state of Oklahoma? What will that mean if the team actually did move here? How would they be covered? Would off-court issues or management issues be covered impartially? Do you dare criticize a coaching decision that may have lost a big game? And I’m only scraping the top of the barrel here — I’m not sure I’m crazy about how they’re covering the Sonics right now, at least in terms of stories about issues related to the team’s possible relocation.

Also to consider is what and how does Oklahoma City do with a permanent NBA franchise? Will it really be fiscally successful? Will the novelty wear off over time? Will the people of Oklahoma City support for long a team that might flounder (or at least be middle-of-the-road) in the Southwest Division that’s already owned by San Antonio and Dallas? Let’s face it, the only way any other teams could compete in that division is if you tie Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan to a radiator in a basement for six months (and if you did that, what’s to say the Rockets or the Hornets won’t step in and own the SW Division? The Hornets are actually pretty fun to watch thanks to some kid from Wake Forest, and if it weren’t for rampant injuries last season, they almost certainly would have squeaked into the postseason).

Oh yeah, and would Oklahoma City be willing to build a sparkling new arena to replace the Ford Center in a few years time? In some ways the Ford Center is already inadequate for major professional sports. It’s great for things like the Big 12 Tournament, or the Oklahoma City Blazers hockey team, and it was adequate for the Hornets for two seasons. Is it long-term adequate? That’s something else that merits some soul searching. Oklahoma City has had the MAPS thing for years (it helped build the Ford Center, it also helps refurbish public schools and other civic improvements), but will the people of Oklahoma City be as patient with a wealthy NBA owner, even if he is one of their own, when he says that his team’s venue is inadequate? How about many more years down the road when whatever/if-ever replacement for the Ford Center becomes inadequate?

To Oklahoma City’s credit, it would be the ONLY big time professional game in a state that is best known for Sooner football and whatever it is the Oklahoma State Cowboys are good at.

To Oklahoma City’s detriment, it is a small media market, and that might not be a good thing when you factor in things like broadcasting revenue and really, the simple fact that bigger is better, especially in the eyes of advertisers who buy time to pimp their products and such (never mind that the two teams that most recently played for the league championship, San Antonio and Cleveland, aren’t huge media markets either, but they’re still bigger markets than OKC).

There is so much to think about here that would keep me up all night thinking about them, and the hamster in my head wants to get off the wheel and take a nap.

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