The Seattle SuperSonics have been sold to a group of investors from Oklahoma City. Normally when a franchise is sold to out-of-towners, speculation begins that the franchise could be moving. Most of the time the rumors are smoke.
This one is fire.
Seattle plays in Key Arena....which was built in 1962 and is the oldest arena in the NBA. It is the oldest arena in the Western Conference by more than 25 years [ARCO Arena in Sacramento was built in 1988]. Sure, it has been renovated a few times....but it still doesn't fit the current NBA mold.
So, Howard Schultz wanted to sell the team [and the WNBA's Storm] to get out from under the mounting debt. He had higher bidders that wanted to move the team immediately, but sold to the Oklahoma group who says they want to make it work in the Pacific Northwest.
Good luck. The lease with Key Arena lasts until 2010...and is one of the least favorable leases in the NBA. And after some chatting with city officials, NBA commish David Stern came away basically saying that Seattle doesn't deserve a team anymore.
That's why the Oklahoma connection makes it a bit more fathomable. Oklahoma City drew rave reviews by NBA people in the way in embraced the displaced New Orleans Hornets...who set up camp there when their arena and city was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina. With New Orleans slowly getting back in shape and the Hornets expected return to the city in 2007-2008....Okie City is left without a team again. Stern really wants to make the Hornets work in N'Awlins since (a) it is a bad PR move to yank the team from a city that needs revenue and (b) he doesn't want to look bad by letting the Hornets leave Charlotte, give Charlotte a newer less popular team, only to let the Hornets move on elsewhere in just a couple of years.
The Sonics are a different case. The team and city have been in this public brawl for the last few years [and intensely the past year] that moving the team wouldn't be as difficult. It will place a huge elephant in the room...as the Sonics celebrate their 40th NBA season in Seattle and with the new owners - genuine or not - saying the want to stay in the Emerald City.
Whether it works out or not remains to be seen. The public words say that the Sonics will stay in Seattle and they'll really try hard to work things out with the city. Behind the scenes, it seems that they say these things to keep the fans coming....and when they don't come due to skepticsm...the Sonics will bolt.