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New book details Oklahoma City's rise to 'big league' status

The Oklahoman's OKC Central columnist Steve Lackmeyer writes about “Big League City,” David Holt's account of how Oklahoma City secured big-league status with the arrival of the NBA Thunder.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: April 24, 2012

David Holt spent only four years at City Hall as aide to Mayor Mick Cornett, but what he witnessed in that era of 2006 to 2010 was nothing less than the crowning of Oklahoma City as a “big league city.”

“Big League City” is also the name of Holt's new book, in which the attorney, also a state legislator, shares his account of how Cornett, City Manager Jim Couch and others at City Hall worked behind the scenes with a group of local business leaders led by Clay Bennett in courting the NBA to Oklahoma City.

It's a tale that begins with a refreshingly frank admission by Holt that before passage of the Metropolitan Area Projects initiative in 1993, “living in Oklahoma City kind of sucked.” Holt then credits former Mayor Andy Coats with introducing the idea of investing in the city in the 1980s, followed by successor Ron Norick's successful launch of the MAPS effort, which created the funding and plan for a ballpark, canal, library, renovated convention center and music hall, and yes, an arena.

Yet another key leader, Mayor Kirk Humphreys, rallied the city in getting additional funding to build the arena, which was in doubt in the late 1990s because of cost-overruns on other MAPS projects. Rivals suggested shelving construction of the arena until the city secured a major league tenant. But Humphreys insisted the arena be built as promised, with or without the guarantee of a major league tenant.

It was that successful move that, in turn, led to Humphreys' successor, Cornett, having an arena with which to court major league basketball in the months leading up to Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans. And it's at this moment in Holt's book that the story gets very interesting.

Oklahoma City, once considered too small a market to be a serious contender for an NBA team, was at first seen as the good guy in this story as it came to the rescue of the New Orleans Hornets. But Oklahoma City was quickly cast into a two-act play that pit it as the aggressor with NBA fans in New Orleans, to where the Hornets eventually returned, and in Seattle, where fans of the Sonics remain bitter over the loss of their team.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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If you go

David Holt will be signing copies of “Big League City” from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Full Circle Bookstore, 50 Penn Place, 1900 Northwest Expressway.

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