Subject: Seattle SuperSonics / Oklahoma City Thunder
Runtime: 43 minutes
Sonicsgate is a documentary about the Seattle SuperSonics being moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. It examines some of the history about the Seattle SuperSonics at the beginning to set the stage for what the team meant to the city of Seattle. It then gets into more details about the Sonics recent history and how these moves lead to the team getting sold to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. The dysfunctional relationship between Gary Payton and Schultz is discussed which results in Gary Payton being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers which sort of started a snowball of decisions and moves that lead to the team being relocated.
The Sonics desperately needed a new arena to be built as their arena had a very low capacity and wasn’t modernized. Schultz and NBA Commissioner, David Stern, campaigned for a new arena to be built, but was denied the funding. The lack of fan interest during these losing seasons paired with the issue of needing a new multi-million dollar arena are ultimately what lead to the team being moved. Howard Schultz ended up selling the team to Professional Basketball Club LLC in 2006, but did ask for a good-faith effort from the new ownership to keep the team in Seattle. Prior to purchasing the team, Clay Bennett, the chairman of Professional Basketball Club LLC, had mentioned that he was doing everything he could to bring an NBA team to Oklahoma City.
After the team was purchased they still had losing seasons, but they were able to get quality lottery picks for the NBA draft. They used these draft picks to select Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook. They traded Ray Allen for a young player in Jeff Green. They had committed to a rebuild and made quality picks and had a bright future.
A group of local businessmen came together to offer to purchase the team as well as pay for half of the arena renovations so that they could keep the team in Seattle. This group was headed by eventual Los Angeles Clippers owner, Steve Ballmer. This plan fell through, though there were still 2 years left on the Sonics lease for staying in Seattle.
E-mails sent by Clay Bennett were leaked showing that he had always planned to move the team to Oklahoma City. There were also emails from Bennett to David Stern that showed Bennett looked up to Stern and respected him on a high level. These emails even lead to forward team owner, Howard Schultz, to sue Clay Bennett for breach of contract.
Ultimately the city and Clay Bennett came to an agreement. Bennett would pay $45 million to the city of Seattle and he would be free from his lease at Key Arena. Bennett also was to owe the city of Seattle $30 million if they were able to get funding for Key Arena to be renovated and if Seattle wasn’t able to get an NBA team by 2013. Neither of these things happened and Bennett and Professional Basketball Club LLC saved $30 million.
As a result of the move, the city of Seattle kept the Sonics branding and colors, but if a new team were to move to Seattle, the Oklahoma City Thunder are able to still refer to the SuperSonics history as their own.