The Seattle NBA basketball team will start moving to Oklahoma City this morning and will begin playing in the Ford Center this fall under terms of a settlement agreement announced Wednesday.
“We made it,” said Oklahoma City investor Clay Bennett at a 7 p.m. news conference. “Congratulations. The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season playing their games.”
“The move begins tomorrow morning,” he said. “It begins with the most important piece of our organization. It begins with our players.”
The SuperSonics name and colors will remain in Seattle. A new name for the Oklahoma City team will be announced “soon,” Bennett promised.
The settlement reached between the city and the team could require team owners to pay the city up to $75 million to break the lease at Seattle’s KeyArena and move to Oklahoma City, according to the agreement reached Wednesday.
Bennett and other owners agreed to pay Seattle $45 million now to break its lease.
Under the agreement, the team will pay another $30 million to Seattle if the Washington Legislature by the end of 2009 approves funding for a new building for a NBA team or for renovation of the KeyArena but Seattle fails to get a team in five years.
If the Legislature doesn't provide funding, the team doesn't owe the $30 million. If the Legislature does provide funding and Seattle gets a new team in five years, the team will not owe the additional money.
“I hope that we don't get the second $30 million. I hope we get a basketball team back in Seattle,” Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said.
The NBA issued a news release assuring Seattle officials that KeyArena could be renovated to meet NBA standards if public funding is approved and that the NBA would support the location of a team in Seattle if a franchise becomes available and the renovations have been done.
Bennett acknowledged that a separate lawsuit is still out there by the teams' former owners. That lawsuit asks a federal judge to rescind the sale.
Bennett called the lawsuit baseless but said Seattle will refund half of the $45 million payment if the team has to return to Seattle's KeyArena for one more year because of the lawsuit, and must refund the full $45 million if the team is forced to play there two more years.
Bennett said tickets to games for Oklahoma City’s new NBA team will be generally higher than they were for Hornets games, but promised there will still be affordable seats.
Read the ruling
Statement from NBA commissioner David Stern
Statement by Seattle Mayor Nickels
Sonics settlement press release
Sonics settlement agreement