Like Stern's existing relationship had benefitted Cornett, the same would soon benefit Bennett, whose OKC-based ownership group would purchase the Seattle SuperSonics from Howard Schultz in 2006.
Stern flatly stated Seattle needed to build a new arena or it would lose the 40-year-old franchise to relocation. The team was playing at KeyArena, the NBA's smallest and oldest facility at the time.
Bennett's proposal for a new $500 million tax-subsidized arena was tabled when the Washington legislature determined there was not enough support to vote on the plan.
With his proposal stagnant and his team “hemorrhaging drastically,” Bennett stuck to his publicly stated self-imposed deadline and commenced relocating the franchise to Oklahoma City thereafter.
Stern criticized Seattle by bluntly stating, “They're not interested in having the NBA there.”
The Seattle franchise arrived in Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008, and the Thunder was born.
“David's leadership and his accomplishments for this league have been vast and nothing short of extraordinary,” Bennett said in a statement released Thursday after Stern's retirement announcement. “It has been an enormous personal privilege to work with such a legendary figure in the business of sports.”
Particularly interesting is how Cornett, Shinn and Bennett speak of their personal dealings with Stern.
“He's relationship-driven,” Cornett said of Stern. “I think what he saw was a relationship with me and with Clay that gave him more confidence than any other option he had. There wasn't time to reinvent things (after Katrina). It was what it was. He and Clay are close. I don't think people in Oklahoma City realize that Commissioner Stern probably respects Clay as a businessman and a friend more than any owner in the league. I wouldn't want to rate them for him, but I've been around enough to know that Clay is in a small group at the top.”
Stern and Shinn battled famously through the years, but all that changed with Katrina.
“I like him very much,” Shinn said Saturday. “I respect him even more than I like him, if that makes sense. David is a tough guy. If you're an owner in the NBA and he thinks you need to improve or sell more tickets or whatever, he'll be on your case. And sometimes he's not nice about it, but that's good. I'm not saying that was wrong. By being ugly, that was good. He could jerk you in or out real quick, but also he has a soft side. He's a good man.
“When the storm came and flooded the arena in New Orleans, there's no way I could ever explain to anyone this experience. It was horrifying to me and it had never in the history of sports happened to anybody else. So we were in new grounds, new territory and the most devastating time for me was right after the storm. During that time, David called me every day for several weeks. I can't tell you what it meant to me to have him to do that.
“I have nothing but admiration for the man. He was always there for me and we had our bouts, OK? I'm kind of an aggressive guy and David is very aggressive so when we met, we clashed, and I understand that. As I got older and I experienced some things, I just realized what an incredible guy he is.”