Clay Bennett walked into a restaurant in L.A.’s Staples Center three years ago. At the bar sat Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Bennett was on a tour to meet NBA owners, seeking approval from the board of governors to purchase the Seattle SuperSonics. Buss, one of the most flamboyant men who run major-leagues sports, had a word of advice for Bennett: "I just want you to make damn sure you know what you’re getting into.” Three years later, and one year to the day when Bennett and Co. delivered the Sonics to Oklahoma City, only now is Bennett grasping the ramifications of his decision to join one of American capitalism’s most exclusive fraternities. The time demands. The loss of privacy. The exhilaration. The drive that can consume someone trying to get a basketball franchise up and running in a virgin market. Bennett said NBA Commissioner David Stern and his lieutenants, Joel Litvin and Adam Silver, talked to Bennett about the loss of privacy and the challenges of NBA ownership when he bought the Sonics, "but that did not get through, how difficult it would be,” Bennett said. "How demanding it would be. I certainly wasn’t ready for the national spotlight, which turned out to be intense and difficult.” Bennett spent Father’s Day 2008 in a Seattle high-rise, prepping for the federal trial in which the city had sued the Sonics, trying to force the franchise to play out its lease at KeyArena. He was Public Enemy No. 1 in a major U.S. market, and just because he wasn’t the first sports owner to feel such wrath — Art Modell, Walter O’Malley, Bob Irsay — didn’t make the notoriety any easier. Bennett traveled to Seattle that weekend with full-time, armed security. He stayed in a secret location, a condo outside the city, with guards in the hallway and guards in the lobby. The rest of the Sonics party from OKC stayed at a hotel under aliases. Bennett’s only link to normalcy was a couple of Father’s Day cards and little gifts he found as he unpacked his luggage. "Man oh man, has my program run off the rail,” Bennett thought. "It really shook me up. I was exhausted and worried I wasn’t going to be able to sleep a wink. "It was life-changing. Very, very difficult. It took the skill and compassion of our legal team, advisers, security team, family and friends to get me through it.” Over the next two weeks came a trial that seemed to tilt the Sonics’ way and a settlement agreement that allowed the franchise to move to OKC. From Public Enemy to Favorite Son. The scars from Seattle were soothed by the Oklahoma reception, from letters to pats on the back to cooperation on all fronts to the warmth and excitement and buzz in the air. "As difficult as all that was (in Seattle), it is now outweighed by how proud I am of what we’ve done as a city,” Bennett said, "and it’s just the beginning.” But Bennett remained changed. Wrestles with the time demands of running an NBA franchise. "I’ve certainly lost much of my privacy,” Bennett said. "I’ve been changed. I hope at the end of the day, it will be a positive change. I’ve learned to become more disciplined, more thoughtful. "I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity. It’s something I look forward to every day.” Bennett threw himself full time into the Thunder transition, and despite owning the franchise two years before the move from Seattle, this was his first season to focus solely on the business of basketball. The previous two years were spent working on an arena deal in Seattle and then the relocation application and subsequent lawsuit. In OKC, it’s all Thunder. Bennett’s franchise partners from the outset gave him full authority to run the franchise. "They all are highly successful, experienced business people,” Bennett said of Aubrey McClendon, Jeff Records, Tom Ward, Bob Howard, Bill Cameron, Everett Dobson and Jay Scaramucci. "All have broad investment experience. "We meet, we communicate. They’ve certainly allowed me enormous latitude to run the business. The process could not have been completed by committee. It took the trust of the partners to allow me to work on their behalf.” But Bennett said he has come to realize he must step away from time to time, that he is expendable. That the Thunder has plenty of bright minds to make quality decisions. That’s part of the learning curve of which Jerry Buss and David Stern spoke. "What an extraordinary experience it’s been,” Bennett said. "This has been the most energizing, exhilarating work I’ve ever done.” Bennett was reminded of the adventurous ride not long ago. Those worries — security, time demands, family — were weighing on him. He stopped by a hardware store and ran into an old friend. "Isn’t that the coolest thing,” the friend said of Bennett running an NBA franchise in his hometown. Bennett took those words to heart. "You know what, you need to pick your butt up a little bit,” he told himself. "Nothing worth a damn’s easy.” Berry Tramel: (405) 760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40 to 5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.