Seemingly out of the blue, Mayor Mick Cornett has called for a new one-cent sales tax to finance $100 million or so worth of upgrades to the Ford Center, with the specific goal of landing a permanent or as permanent as those things ever are National Basketball Association tenant. The tax, if approved by voters, would replace the existing MAPS for Kids one-cent tax, which expires at the end of 2008.
That $100-million figure raised some eyebrows, since construction of the Ford Center cost less than $90 million only five years ago. The city, at the time, said only that it met the standards of the National Hockey League. Hurriedly pressed into service as an NBA venue in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina dislocated the New Orleans Hornets, the Ford served pretty well, balancing an above-average seating capacity (19,163) with below-average amenities. The Hornets found it satisfactory, not least because they drew better in Oklahoma City than they had in New Orleans. There was some talk that the team might actually stay beyond the two years it took to get the New Orleans Arena back up to snuff, but the Commissioner's office put a stop to that: the Hornets, said David Stern, would return to New Orleans, and that was that. The official announcement came in January 2007, as the Hornets declined an option to play a third season at the Ford.
But by then something else was in the works. As I wrote in December 2005, barely into the first year of the Hornets' residency:
If the Hornets return to New Orleans, as everyone involved swears they will, this is the most likely spot the Sonics will end up: team support here is running well beyond original expectations, and NBA Commissioner David Stern would much prefer to have another team move here than to deal with angry Hornets fans in Louisiana.
[Clay] Bennett and Oklahoma Professional Sports LLC, the ad hoc business consortium that backed Oklahoma City's bid to host the Hornets from 2005 through 2007, have set up a corporation to seek an NBA franchise for the city, be it the Hornets if they stay, or another team should they go. Meanwhile in Seattle, [Howard] Schultz is making noises about selling out.
As we all know by now, Schultz did sell out: to Bennett and company, doing business as the Professional Basketball Club LLC, who, after demanding and not getting a deal for a new facility, on 2 November 2007 filed papers with the league to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma City, pending the settling of the team's lease on Seattle's KeyArena, which ends in 2010.
This is not, frankly, the way I wanted things to work out. But my own preferred scenario Stern, after two years of 30th-place attendance in New Orleans, relents, and Hornets owner George Shinn does one last move wasn't all that likely to pan out, and Shinn's lease on the New Orleans Arena, as it happens, is even longer than Bennett's lease on the Key. So the Sonics move is predictable enough. (It must have been, if I could predict it.) It helps that (1) Bennett and Stern are old friends and (2) Stern's already complain