NBA groupie Oklahoma City will get its heart broken by the SuperSonics and Hornets, and the only people who don't know it are those who live in Oklahoma City.
At the moment Oklahoma City looks good for an NBA franchise by 2008, whether it's the Hornets, who adopted OKC as a second home after Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans, or the Sonics, who were purchased last week by an OKC group.
|New owner Clay Bennett is Oklahoma's native son, but will likely keep the Sonics in Washington. (AP)|
Charlotte knows that lust. So do Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C.
Oklahoma City boosters will tell you they're different than jilted cities of the past. That they're close, so close, to getting an NBA team. The Hornets look good, considering New Orleans didn't support the team before the hurricane and can't support it now, and considering OKC fans bought more than 10,000 season tickets when the Hornets hastily moved there this past season. The Sonics look even better, considering their new ownership is led by an OKC businessman, Clay Bennett, who has been trying for years to bring home a major sports franchise.
One way or another, the NBA is coming to Oklahoma City. That's what OKC boosters believe. Last week Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel wrote, "OKC suddenly has two quarterhorses in the derby, and its permanent NBA chances never have been better. Hornets or Sonics, one or the other, almost surely will be Ford Center tenants beyond next season."
Given what you know about the situation in New Orleans and the ownership in Seattle, that sounds reasonable. Almost surely the NBA is coming to Oklahoma City.
|It took T.B. more than 20 years to field a team the AL East can use as a whipping post. (Getty Images)|
Look at Tampa Bay. Yes, Tampa Bay got its Major League Baseball team, but don't forget the torture it endured before winning the expansion Devil Rays.
When Tampa Bay investors agreed to buy the Minnesota Twins in 1984, commissioner Bowie Kuhn nixed the deal. In 1985, Tampa Bay investors agreed to buy the Oakland A's for $37 million; Oakland backed out of the deal. In 1987, Tampa Bay went after the Twins again, agreeing to buy the team for $65 million. That deal crumbled during further negotiations. In 1988, the Chicago White Sox came so close to moving to Tampa Bay that team employees were polled to see who would move South with the team. Although 60 percent said they'd move, the White Sox stayed put.
Along the way, St. Petersburg built a $130 million stadium to turn its annual MLB flirtation into marriage, with 22,000 season tickets spoken for. In 1991, baseball rewarded Tampa Bay diligence by giving an expansion franchise to ... Miami. In 1992, St. Pete tried to buy the Seattle Mariners, but the Marlins helped throttle that by citing their need for in-state exclusivity. Later in 1992, San Francisco owner Bob Lurie agreed to sell the Giants to a Tampa Bay group, but NL owners veoted the deal.
This could be you, Oklahoma City.
You also could be Washington, D.C., which lost its MLB franchise in 1971 and spent 34 years trying to get one back. In 1973, a D.C. group agreed to buy the San Diego Padres, even choosing Frank Robinson (strange but true) as the team's next manager, but had to give the franchise back after failing to close the deal in three weeks. In 1976, baseball expanded not to the nation's capital, but to Toronto and Seattle. In 1991, with Washington, D.C., again on the list, baseball grew to Miami and Denver.
|Baseball is back in RFK Stadium -- after a 34-year hiatus. (Getty Images)|
If you're NBA groupie Oklahoma City, you're comforted that Tampa did finally get its expansion team, and Washington, D.C., did finally get the Expos. But compare those cities to OKC. No comparison, know what I mean? The sunny Tampa Bay market beats the crap out of dusty OKC. Washington, D.C., is one of the leading cities in the world, while Oklahoma City is one of the leading cities in Oklahoma.
So what'll get between NBA groupie Oklahoma City and its NBA team? No clue, but it'll be something. The Hornets and Sonics have several years left on current leases, which give their cities time on arena and infrastructure issues. The NBA could decide not to let either franchise leave its internationally known city for OKC, which would be the smallest, least diverse market in the league. Boll weevils could destroy downtown OKC.
This is not a painless process. Charlotte knows. Charlotte has been linked to almost every small-market franchise in baseball, with Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson once glumly predicting the Twins would become the Charlotte Twins. Didn't happen. Charlotte got so abused by baseball that earlier this year, when the Marlins announced plans to explore other cities and mentioned Charlotte, Charlotte basically said not to bother.
Charlotte has read this book, many times, and knows how the story ends. Could someone please send the book to Oklahoma City? Oklahoma City only knows what NBA owners are telling it.
Which means Oklahoma City doesn't know anything.