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'Oklahoma Today' honors Thunder owner Clay Bennett as Oklahoman of the year

BY JEFF LATZKE - AP Sports Writer Modified: April 24, 2009 at 11:17 am •  Published: April 24, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY — To see a room full of dignitaries gathered to honor Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett came as no surprise to Mayor Mick Cornett.

But for Bennett to be sitting front and center as it all happened, now that was unusual.

"There are many in this community that give much, and there are many that don't want any credit," Cornett said Thursday as Bennett was recognized by a magazine at its Oklahoman of the year. "But I don't think there's very many people that give more or want to be remembered for it less than Clay Bennett.

"He gives and gives and gives over and over and over."

After being recognized by the mayor, state tourism director, Gov. Brad Henry and representatives of "Oklahoma Today" magazine, the notoriously reclusive Bennett stepped to the podium to make his remarks.

"Oh, man. That was not fun," said Bennett, who bought the Seattle SuperSonics and relocated them to Oklahoma City in July.

Bennett spent most of his nearly 20 minutes at the podium thanking city and state officials, his ownership group, his family, the NBA and citizens for their help in bringing Oklahoma its first permanent major league sports franchise.

But the other speakers made it clear why Bennett was the man of the hour.

"Just bringing an NBA franchise to Oklahoma is one of the most exciting things that has happened in our state in my entire lifetime," Henry said. "I know because I was involved a little bit on the periphery that there were a lot of people involved in making that a success and bringing an NBA franchise to Oklahoma and to Oklahoma City.

"But I can tell you this: There is no one more responsible for making that happen. Without Clay Bennett, it wouldn't have happened. It's just that simple."

Henry also pointed out that it took fortitude on Bennett's part, considering that he became a villain in Seattle for moving that city's first major-league franchise after he demanded a new, $500 million arena that never won support among Washington state legislators.

"It was because of his vision, his leadership and, quite frankly, his fearlessness. This guy had death threats, as you could imagine, when he had to go spend some time in that city to the northwest of our state," Henry said.

The Thunder took the event at the Oklahoma History Center as an opportunity to donate a series of artifacts from their inaugural season.

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