'Cash-Us Clay' tries to KO Seattle fans   

Updated: November 2, 2007, 8:56 PM ET

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It's official. Art Modell, Robert Irsay, Donald Sterling and Jeffrey Loria are off the hook. The worst owner in sports history is Clay Bennett.

I know, I know. There is a lot of competition for that distinction. Why, to even achieve the honor of worst owner in Seattle sports history you have to beat out Ken Behring, George Argyros, Jeff Smulyan and Howard Schultz. But Bennett, or as my friend Rod calls him, "Cash-Us" Clay, accomplished it in a little more than a year. Just consider his most recent move.

(L-R) Adam Silver, Clayton I. Bennett, and David Stern

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The minute he was welcomed as an NBA owner in 2006, Clay Bennett, center, started asking for a new arena.

Showing all the public relations and marketing savvy that has marked his tenure as owner so far, Bennett formally announced his intention to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City less than a day after the tip-off to the team's home opener. "Welcome to the 2007-08 season, Sonics fans! And will the owner of a Prius hybrid please move your car -- you're blocking the owner's U-Haul vans." Cash-Us Clay released a statement declaring he will move the team as soon as he can break his lease at Seattle's KeyArena or when he next sheds his skin, whichever comes first.

"From the beginning," Bennett says in the release (we assume with a straight face), "it has been my absolute hope and expectation that we would be able to secure the necessary governmental commitments to build a successor venue to KeyArena."

This would sound a lot more convincing had his partner and minority owner, Aubrey McLendon, not already revealed to an Oklahoma paper earlier this year that: "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here." (McLendon, by the way, was a big donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which gives you some idea of this group's tactics.)

Bennett's whole beef with Seattle is that so far the area has declined to agree to build him a $500 million arena to replace KeyArena, which was renovated before the 1995-96 season for more than $100 million (which at the time, seemed like a lot of money for a basketball arena). This is a pretty typical reaction for an owner. Pay far too much for a team -- Bennett's group paid $350 million, the fourth most ever for an NBA franchise -- then blame the taxpayers when you don't instantly make as much money as you would like. What is needed is not better players and a winning team but a new arena.

I'm not sure how Bennett determined the $500 million price, but I do know he has carved it in stone. Now, if you were going to remodel your home or build a new one, I think you might take bids from several contractors and consider all sorts of options in order to get most of what you want at the lowest price. And that's how sports owners would do it as well if they actually had to pay for the construction. But since they simply stick the taxpayers with the financing, they don't care what the cost is. In fact, the more it costs the better, because then it allows the next owner to ask for an even more expensive arena and on and on until everyone is playing in $2 billion stadiums built by Halliburton.

"The region is still in need of a modern building," Bennett goes on in his release, laying it on even thicker, "not just for the Sonics and Storm, but also for the broad commercial and quality of life benefits such facilities provide."

He's right, it has been soooooo difficult living in a city without a modern performance venue. When local residents paid for the Seattle Center renovations a decade ago, I knew they should have insisted on indoor plumbing rather than outhouses. And the tar paper roof, which must have had some appeal at the time, turned out to be a mistake. No wonder the only acts that have played the arena in the past couple years are such B-list, puppet-show opening acts as U2, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, The Police and Elton John.

The point is, the area doesn't need a new arena, the Sonics do not NEED a new arena, and they certainly do not need one that costs $500 million. What the Sonics do need is an owner who is willing to honestly and realistically negotiate.

(And while I'm venting, how about a little venom for Howard Schulz? Here's a guy who built a worldwide coffee empire from Seattle and he rewards the city by selling the Sonics to an out-of-town buyer. Thanks a lot. This was pretty much Schulz's attitude at the time of the sale: "I am committed to finding a local owner who will keep the Sonics in Sea... -- WHAT? $350 MILLION!!! DON'T LET BENNETT OUT OF THE OFFICE WITHOUT HIS SIGNATURE ON THE BOTTOM OF A BINDING CONTRACT!!" Good grief. You own Starbucks! How much money do you need?)

Anyway, that's where David Stern comes in. I know the NBA commissioner is employed by the owners and part of his job is to help secure these ridiculous arena deals. But in this case Stern needs to step up and tell Cash-Us Clay that the league has enough problems already and has no interest in moving a successful franchise in the 13th-largest media market to the 40th-largest market. That Bennett knew the financial layout when he bought the team for $350 million. That he has been going about this poorly. That if he wants to stay in the league, he'd better take some responsibility and clean up his mess here.

Because despite what Cash-Us Clay would have you believe, the problem is not a city where the team has successfully operated for 40 years but rather the carpetbagger owner who has been around for barely a year.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.


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