Faint praise, you might say

Bomani Jones has a sort of grudging admiration for Sonics owner Clay Bennett:

Think about it. Clay Bennett and his buddies bought the Sonics because they want to have a basketball team in their hometown. That’s all it was. Oklahoma City is definitely growing — it’s certainly not the city it was when I visited my grandparents there as a kid — but I can’t imagine what kind of book-cooking would have to take place to make me believe the Sonics would be more profitable in a metropolitan area about the size of Birmingham as opposed to one more comparable to Phoenix.

Basically, a few rich guys want to be able to watch NBA basketball courtside without catching a flight, so they went and got a squad. Think someone’s special for having a house in the Hamptons? These cats bought the Hamptons, and put it down the street from their houses. They win.

Clay Bennett’s not a popular man in Seattle. But do you blame him for wanting an NBA team in his hometown? If ever there was an example where a town owed its tax dollars to a professional owner, this is it. Bennett and company put up $350 million so Oklahoma City could have an NBA team. The least Oklahomans could do is put something in the hat.

Yet, as reptilian as this whole ordeal has been, there’s something admirable about what Bennett’s doing, too. Oklahoma City never would have gotten an expansion franchise, no matter how fantastic the crowds were while OKC served as the Hornets’ foster city. Bennett’s audacity, all the way down to the bald-faced whoppers he’s told since he bought the team, have a quality that isn’t entirely repulsive. This probably isn’t Bennett’s dream, but it’s certainly his wish, and it’s amazing that he has come so close to making it come true.

Well, the NBA wasn’t going to expand into Birmingham (the 40th Nielsen DMA, five steps above Oklahoma City) either, and Jefferson County has troubles of its own these days.

But Jones understands what’s going on here:

It’s capitalism run amok, but it’s can’t-miss theater. And, deep down, I get it.

And if there’s anything they hate in places like Seattle, it’s capitalism that dares to run amok. Down here we revel in the sheer wackiness of it all. It wasn’t so long ago that OG&E wanted to build a new coal-fired power plant, and Chesapeake Energy, a major natural-gas producer, took out Oklahoman advertising to blast them for any number of sins, the worst of which, of course, was not using natural gas. (The nerve!) Chesapeake, not incidentally, is run by Aubrey McLendon, one of Bennett’s partners in Sonics ownership, who was fined a quarter of a million by the NBA for having had the temerity to suggest that they might indeed want to move this team they’d bought. It’s theater, and we’ve got the cast for it.

Still, “isn’t entirely repulsive” does manage to include, by definition, a fair amount of actual repulsion, and, at bottom, it should.

Addendum, 6 pm: At least somebody in Seattle knows how to play this game. Previous owner Howard Schultz is planning to sue the current ownership. Bravo, Mr Schultz. As remediation, it’s not likely to work, but as theater, it’s fabulous.

Addendum, 20 April: Mr Jones goes through his mail, which is not overly complimentary.

1 comment

  1. McGehee »

    15 April 2008 · 10:24 am

    The NBA was never going to expand into Sacramento either. And the stepdown for the Kings from Kansas City to Sacramento had to have been comparable at the time, prestige-wise at least. I suspect Bennett and Gregg Lukenbill would get along very well indeed.

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