Mayors from 14 NBA cities recently sent an open letter to the league and its players union, asking them to end the lockout.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett refused to sign.
“I just felt like the players and owners are on the same side as we're on. Everybody wants it to be resolved,” Cornett said Wednesday. “It just seems disrespectful to sign a letter that seemed to imply somebody was necessarily at fault.”
Cornett played a prominent role in helping the city lure an NBA franchise, but he has maintained a low profile throughout the league's 111-day lockout. However, he is still paying close attention to negotiations between the owners and players.
“If forced to take a side, I would side with the owners in this deal,” Cornett said. “If anyone believes commissioner (David) Stern or the owners want to start canceling games, I just can't imagine where that line of thinking is coming from. That's the last thing anybody wanted to do.
“They (owners) obviously are serious about getting a better business deal with the players. The players are going to have to see that the economics have changed, and they're still getting a good deal, even if it is not as good as it was (in the previous CBA).”
Cornett said Oklahoma City's greatest loss during a lockout is not being able to utilize the promotional value of the NBA's worldwide stage, which he said cannot be quantified.
“That's something that's more important to us than the economic impact of a few games,” Cornett said.
The city manager's office estimates each Thunder home game has a direct economic impact of $1.28 million on the city, which would total $52.48 million for the 41-game regular season.
Despite being the third-smallest market in the NBA (ahead of Memphis and New Orleans), the Thunder quickly has become a financially solvent franchise with a promising future after advancing to the Western Conference finals last season.
The NBA claims 22 teams lost money last season, which is the crux of negotiating the league's new collective bargaining agreement.
“We're in a unique situation where a small-market team is now making money,” Cornett said. “That's an unusual combination. From our perspective, if the issue was ‘Should big markets share with small markets?' that would be great. But if it's ‘Should profitable teams share with nonprofitable teams?' that's not so good for us. We'd be helping to bail out some of the cities who just can't get their act together.”
Elsewhere, the city of Memphis is considering bringing a lawsuit against the NBA if the league cancels any more games. City bonds were needed to build the FedExForum, and city taxpayers would have to make up the difference in the arena's lost game revenues this season.
This is in stark contrast to the newly named Chesapeake Energy Arena, which opened in 2002 and is owned by Oklahoma City.
The Thunder's home arena and all its renovations were paid for through 1-cent sales tax proposals approved by voters, as was the new Integris Health Thunder Training Center the team moved into last week.
Chesapeake Energy will pay roughly $38 million over the next 12 years for naming rights to the arena.
Cornett fondly remembers a conversation he had with Stern while trying to sell him on Oklahoma City as a potential NBA city.
Stern: “How much money do you owe on your building?”
Cornett: “It's debt-free.”
“The commissioner's head tilted and he said, ‘Really?'” Cornett recalled. “It was if I had discovered a new element on the Periodic Table.”
Stern: “Who owns your naming rights?”
Cornett: “The Oklahoma Ford Dealers, but we have an NBA and NHL out (clause). If we get a team, then those rights go away.”
“We really were set up to succeed at this juncture, in two extremely critical elements that would have been almost impossible to overcome otherwise,” Cornett said. “We're still benefiting from that foresight.”
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. Follow him on Twitter @RohdeOK.