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'Oklahoma Today' honors Thunder owner Clay Bennett as Oklahoman of the year

BY JEFF LATZKE - AP Sports Writer Modified: April 24, 2009 at 11:17 am •  Published: April 24, 2009
p /> The Thunder took the event at the Oklahoma History Center as an opportunity to donate a series of artifacts from their inaugural season. A jersey worn by Kevin Durant, the ball from the final home game of the season, several pairs of shoes and items from the Thunder Girls dance team and mascot Rumble the Bison were among the donations.

Bennett, who did not speak to reporters at the event, found it uncomfortable to accept the same honor given in 1995 to firefighters who responded to the Oklahoma City bombing. Other past winners include country singers Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood.

"I can't quite accept it and understand it yet, but I am most appreciative of it," Bennett said.

Henry praised Bennett for making Oklahoma a better and more exciting place, saying he couldn't "think of a better contribution that anyone can make to their home state than improving the quality of life for all of its citizens."

"This whole Thunder thing really transcends sports. It has helped unify our state, and more important from my standpoint, it really has placed Oklahoma on the map nationally and internationally," Henry said. "It's helped us in our economic development efforts, in terms of recruiting new companies and new jobs that want to have all kinds of opportunities — cultural opportunities and sporting opportunities.

"Because of the Thunder, tens of millions of additional dollars have been injected into our economy in Oklahoma. What a great, successful first season it has been."

The Thunder finished the season with one of the worst records in the NBA at 23-59, but added three wins to the total from their final season in Seattle and ranked among the league leaders in attendance. The Ford Center was at 97.7 percent capacity for the Thunder's home games and was sold out for 18 of 41 games.

"We believe in team. We believe in community. We believe in doing the right thing and doing it the right way," Bennett said. "I am proud of every member of our staff and look forward to continuing to build an elite, competitive, sustainable organization on and off the court."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.