Seattle SuperSonics chairman Clay Bennett sat down with The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry on Friday. Here's the transcript of their discussion: Q: What does Friday's filing mean for Oklahoma City? Bennett: It means that we will now begin to work with Oklahoma City to understand the comprehensive relationship that the team and the city will have if we relocate. What the facilities would look like, what the lease arrangements would look like, what any number of other elements of the relationship would look like. Now, timing is unknown. Timing could be upon determination of this litigation. It could be at the end of this season. It could be at the end of the existing lease term. It could be in between if there's some settlement or negotiation that we both agree to. So timing is unknown, and the process is very comprehensive. It will involve a lot of people. It will take time. The league, today upon notification, will name a relocation committee of owners. And they will help to define and conduct the process. Q: How does the pending court case affect the filing? A: Timing. The court case is to determine one issue and that is specific performance. That's all that's being determined. Must we play our games through 2010, or may we provide a financial legal remedy that allows us to honor the lease? Q: What happens if the court rules in favor of specific performance and you have to play in Seattle until 2010? A: Then we will play here through 2010, short of any other negotiated settlement that may take place. Q: What happens after 2010? A: We're free to relocate. Q: Is that the plan? A: Without a new building, that's the plan. Q: Is there anything between now and then that can stop the team from relocating or change your mind? A: If very soon there was a leadership driven, tangible, binding proposal relative to the development of a modern building, and we are able to negotiate acceptable lease terms in that building, we would fully evaluate that. But the timing is running out on that very quickly. If something was to begin today, it would not be ready by 2010. So the dynamics of this negotiation and this relationship will change pretty dramatically. Q: Are there still negotiations at this point or has everything been shelved? A: I'm generally aware of one potential concept, but we're not involved in it at all. And it would require a significant public investment. Q: What concept is that? A: I'm not going to speak to the concept. Q: Are the teams for sale, and what's your reaction to the group of Seattle investors who have made a public offer to buy the teams? A: The teams are not for sale, and the parties don't need to spend their time and energy working on that process. Q: Why hold on to the teams if investors are willing to keep them in Seattle? A: Because what we announced on July 18th of 2006 is that we purchased the teams, we would provide a timeframe by which we would attempt to foster the development of a new, modern arena facility. If that could be done we would certainly be very pleased to be here for a very long time. If that could not be done, then we would explore other options which include relocation. So what that really means is we hoped to build a building here. I fully expected to build a building here. I expected that, in time, we would aspire to develop an elite basketball operation and that we would thrive in this very vibrant economy. If that could not happen, then we had other options, certainly first and foremost in our minds among them would be Oklahoma City. We were successful in the Hornets experience. We have an acceptable building. We have a diverse and growing economy, and we would be the only pro sports franchise in the state. The city aspires to be a major league city and part of the national platform. And there were other markets that we contemplated at the time that would be potential relocation possibilities. That was always the approach from the very beginning. If we could be successful here with a new building we would commit to that. If we couldn't we would move on. Q: Seattle is known as an 11th hour market. Do you feel that there is anything that can be done toward a new arena at this point? A: I've studied both of those stadium projects very carefully and thoroughly. They're in a different time frame than we're in now. Very dynamics. Very different leadership structures. So I'm doubtful. I'm open. It seems that certainly there are committed and passionate fans. But it's a very large market. There are very broad and important infrastructure needs here. Proposition 1 (to improve streets and bridges) is a very good example. And there are others. And I understand the notion that perhaps this (new arena) is not a public investment that is a priority. Q: A lot of people feel that you have not negotiated in good faith. What are your answers to those critics? A: I reject them completely. We've spent millions of dollars on the development of an arena development proposition in Renton. A world-class building. HOK Sport was the architect. We felt a very reasonable financial strategy was supported by leadership and people in government. It was subject to a vote of the public, and the enabling legislation was never even brought to a vote before the legislature. So I don't think they should question my good faith. I think they should question how leadership and the relative constituencies feel about public investment in an arena. We've put a proposal out there. We've put a very attractive proposal together, a building that would be highly additive to the economic vitality of the region. And it was rejected out of hand. Even since then we've been open to proposals and ideas. We've heard very few of them. The Muckleshoot proposal was to contribute land. I appreciate that and that's an important part of the deal. But there was no relative development component. There was no financing plan. And we've never talked in any serious way about a relationship. It just seems that, again, it may not be a public priority. There's certainly no public demand for such a building. Q: Seattle officials argue that they've offered you $100 million to renovate KeyArena and you won't return Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' phone calls. Is that that you won't sit down and talk with him, and if so why not?Comments
A: The comments that I've heard from the city don't relate to my experience with him. But, that said, KeyArena is not a viable NBA facility. A renovated KeyArena is not a viable modern NBA building. We've said that from the day we announced the transaction that we would look to develop a successor venue to KeyArena. And so we know that KeyArena is not viable for the NBA. It's very viable for a lot of other things. So we've not engaged in discussions about KeyArena because that's not a long term answer. And in our opinion would not be an appropriate investment if the objective is to secure the NBA.
Q: What do you say to those who say the $500 million price tag for the proposed facility was absurd from the start?
A: I'd say they need to look into the proposal more carefully. It's expensive to build these buildings. It's very expensive to build these buildings in this market. This was a world-class, state-of-the-art building, comparable to these world-class, state-of-the-art buildings in which the Mariners and Seahawks play. Why not have a world-class, state-of-the-art building for basketball and entertainment. Because this market, as I look around, is about doing things in a world-class way and setting standards.
Q: If this comes down to negotiations, what is the ownership group willing to negotiate?
A: We would enter into a negotiation in good faith. We would attempt to understand what's being put forth if it was a reasonable economic proposition for us.
Q: Would that include leaving the WNBA's Storm here?
A: Everything's on the table.
Q: Would that include the Sonics' name and history?
A: I don't know. I think everything is on the table. Clearly our partners, the other owners in the league, and the league itself will be involved with this as well on issues such as that. But I think everything would be on the table.
Q: Do you and the rest of the ownership group have a figure in mind of how much you're willing to pay to get out of the remaining two years of the leas?
A: No. What we're attempting to do is bring definition to the negotiation, and a big part of that is the legal determination of specific performance. Then we can begin to make determinations about where we want to be.
Q: What now in terms of the legal process?
A: The legal process will continue as it relates to a determination on specific performance. And of course that will be considered in the relocation application process. But primarily the legal process will relate to timing in relocation. Without a new building the team will leave. Whether they leave now or at the end of the term or somewhere in between is unknown today. But without a new building they will leave. So the litigation affects it in that regard.
Q: You're on record of saying the team is ‘hemmorging' money. Legal documents claim the team lost $17 million last season. Are you and the ownership willing to continue losing that much money until 2010?
A: We are committed to being successful in this business. We are very disappointed that we're in this position. We did not expect to be in this position. We expected to be successful in Seattle. But we are also experienced business people and able to respond to changes and understand and develop strategies to get us to a successful conclusion.
Q: What kind of support do you have from the league office, particularly David Stern? Is there some sort of an agreement that you two have that, because of what you helped do for the Hornets that he owes Oklahoma City?
A: No. There's no such agreement in place. There's support for us as there is support for the other 29 teams. We're all are working hard. We all face significant challenges in this dynamic business. And David and the league does the best they can to understand what those challenges are and provide council and support. And I would say that the league has been extremely supportive of us. We rely on their guidance and we're responsive to them. That's a large measure of why the league is so successful is because the teams work together, they work with the league and rely on David's leadership. So we'll work through this together.
Q: In your conversations with Commissioner Stern, what kind of feeling do you get from him about this team possibly moving to Oklahoma City?
A: My sense is, and I think we all share it, that it's hard to believe that we can't get a building built here. Because the market would support it, it would be financially successful, it would be additive to the economic vitality of the region and it would seem to make sense that the public would want to keep the teams here. But times have changed. They're political realities and they're economic realities, and at the end of the day, one has to do what you can to support the investment. And the business cannot survive in Seattle without a new building. And the league understands that and supports that.
Q: What is the support like from the league's other owners?
A: I don't want to speak to the other owners at this juncture except to say we all understand the economic realities of the business we're in. We understand the fundamental requirement for a building that delivers the revenue streams required to support the business. And quite frankly that supports the operating needs today of teams and players and fans and sponsors. So there is a clear understanding that this team requires a new building to stay in the marketplace.
Q: Do you understand why this market is so opposed to building a new arena?
A: I'm getting there. Mainly just through time. I'm not sure I completely understand because I'm so convinced of why this is an important investment that would provide benefit. But in the face of multi-billion dollar road and transportation propositions and public health needs and public education needs and environmental needs and all the public infrastructure requirements that are now imminent because of the dramatic growth of this region, I can understand why there are those that feel that perhaps this is, No. 1entertainment. It's private business. There are wealthy owners. There are wealthy players. There are wealthy fans. And maybe this is not an appropriate use of public money. I think that's for every market to view and make a determination on. As an example, I think Oklahoma City is at a different place in its development and where the economy is and what the public infrastructure needs are and what they aspire to be. And so I think the city leadership and the public values the opportunity to become a major league city. Seattle is a major league city. They're more than that. They're a global, important market. Ports with connection to the Pacific Rim. Boeing. Microsoft. The Gates Foundation. All the great things Paul Allen does here. The arts. Health care. It goes on and on with the assets and the quality of life that exists here. So it's in a different place with how it views another pro sports team. That's my basic opinion on the subject.
Q: How much of the ownership group's money are you all willing to put toward the cause in Seattle or in Oklahoma City?
A: At this point now it depends on the specific transaction and what the deal is and what the economics are to engage in any relationship. It's not a hard number today. It becomes a number as we understand the deal and negotiate.
Q: Has there been any input on the ownership's group thus far in terms of funding for a new arena?
A: Well we invested several million dollars in our Renton exercise as an example and additional money as we've worked through this process over 15 months. In the case of Renton, we committed to $100 million.
Q: You said at the announcement of the sale that owning a team has always been a dream of yours. Has it felt that way?
A: Half dream, half nightmare. The exercise has been first and foremost energizing. It's what I hoped that I would enjoy about being involved in pro sports. Pro Sports touches all aspects of business. It's finance. It's sales. It's entertainment. It's a social experience. It's games. It's players. It's people. It touches on everything. That's the magic of sports. That's why we connect to players and games and our teams. That is energizing. That part of it has been a lot of fun. It's a very demanding business. The league is comprised of 30 outstanding ownership groups. They've all hired the best executive talent on the business side and the very best basketball talent. The players are the best in the world. Nobody sleeps in this business. It's highly, highly competitive and very demanding, more so than I remembered from the Spurs and than I expected. But I hope I've risen to the challenge to some extent and do enjoy it. I have been disappointed in the Seattle experience. I'm thrilled with were we are with our team with Sam (Presti) and P.J. (Carlesimo) and the players. I feel our basketball side is doing great. I'm very proud of the business side. They're working hard and doing the best they can in a different environment. And I've met, in large measure, a lot of very good people who've attempted to help me and give me counsel and work with me along the way. I'm disappointed we have not been successful. I had every belief and was convinced we would be successful. Personally that's a bit of a disappointment. And the travels difficult. I've traveled not just here but all over the country, doing this and other business activities. So I appreciate my family's support. But I have good people around me who support me and are fortunately a heck of a lot smarter than I am and provide the real talent on all of this. But all in all, aside from the financial losses, which are significant, it's been a very rewarding 15 months.
Q: What have you learned and how has it changed you?
A: I've learned a lot. I've learned on every front. I think if it's changed me any, and I hope I've had a bit of this in my life and my experiences, but it certainly helped me to understand and understand in a positive way that people have different opinions. People think differently. There are different approaches to issues and different ways of solving problems. And it doesn't mean that it's personal. It doesn't mean that it's malicious or wrong. It means that we live in a very dynamic and diverse and changing world. And we need to work hard to be respectful of each other in that regard. It's been said that, well, you're just used to getting your way. That may be true. So I've learned that you can't always get your way. You have to respect people, work hard and the right things happen. I've also appreciated the work ethic that I've learned from my parents and family and my Oklahoma roots. I may get whipped, I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to get outworked.
Q: What was your reaction to the home-opening crowd?
A: I thought it was a good crowd. I thought there was a nice energy in the gym, and I thought the game presentation was solid. I thought it was good, and the game was terrific. It was a better feeling than I expected. I guess I was concerned about what may shake out, but I thought it was a good night out.
Q: What were you emotions when they began chanting Save Our Sonics?
A: I understand it. I respect it. I expect it. We just need more than 15,000 of them.
Q: Can Oklahoma City be a viable long term NBA market?
Q: What gives you hope or optimism?
A: Clearly in having a real-time test with the Hornets experience is pretty compelling. But beyond that, in our due diligence in talking to companies and talking to people who would be supportive of the team and sponsor the team, talking to local city leadership and business leadership and media about just general perspective and perceptions. Looking at our economy and its growth and growing diversity. The notion of being the only sports team in the state. I think basketball is the right sport and the NBA is the right product. It's a good fit and will be very successful.
Q: Anything give you reservations with moving to Oklahoma City?
Q: Do you feel like the franchise could be 100 percent successful if it were in Oklahoma City?
A: I do.
Q: Where will the team play next season?
A: I do not know.