Muckleshoot may be key to Sonics stay in Seattle

SEATTLE, Washington (AP) 6-07

If David Stern has his way inside his own league, the SuperSonics will remain in Seattle.

The NBA commissioner, an associate of Sonics owner Clay Bennett for more than a decade since Bennett was the San Antonio Spurs' representative on the league's board of governors, said he thinks Bennett will find a way to get a new arena built in the Seattle area to keep the Sonics in their home for the past 40 years.

If Bennett doesn't find that way by Oct. 31, he has promised to begin the process of relocating the team, most likely to his hometown of Oklahoma City or to Kansas City, which is looking for an anchor tenant for its new arena.


“I think it's just going to work itself out and I hope it does,” Stern said Thursday at the NBA finals in San Antonio. “It's been a good city for the NBA and we'd love to stay there.”

Stern acknowledged that Bennett “has more than exhausted the traditional means” to getting a new arena built in the Seattle area. Before it adjourned in April, the state legislature rejected a plan to use King County tax revenues to cover $278 million of a proposed $500 million arena in the suburb of Renton.

Short of Bennett asking Gov. Chris Gregoire to call back lawmakers for a special session to reconsider the issue - which the governor's office confirms Bennett has not done - there is no way the Sonics can get public money approved for a building before Bennett's deadline.

“But sometimes in situations like that, something that you couldn't have contemplated comes to the forefront and maybe there's some possibility,” Stern said.

With public financing unavailable, Bennett currently has one private, Seattle-area investor interested in helping him build a new arena.

The Muckleshoot tribe owns land that includes and surrounds the Emerald Downs race track in Auburn, Wash., and its tribal council is exploring how that land might be used for an arena, tribal spokesman Rollin Fatland said. The site is 24 miles from downtown Seattle.

Representatives of the tribe, which runs one of the state's biggest casinos, met with Bennett in February in what Bennett called “purely an introductory meeting.”

“I have not spoken with them since,” he said. “I am willing and ready to respond to anything they want to talk about.”

For now, Muckleshoot leaders are talking among themselves in what Fatland called “a serious undertaking” to determine whether the site and the transportation infrastructure around it would work for a new arena. The tribal council met Friday, “but the Sonics were not on the agenda,” Fatland said.

Bennett has yet to see the proposed 70-plus acre site between the track and a six-lane highway.

Fatland said “there's no hard and fast deadline,” on when the tribe's assessment will be complete, “though I know sooner rather than later is the order of the day here.”

Fatland said the tribe does not want to prematurely raise the expectations of Seattle-area basketball fans because its interest is still so preliminary. But he added, “I think doing something good for the community was part of the motivation here, sure.”

As for Seattle itself, deputy mayor Tim Ceis said Thursday the city will continue to enforce the lease the Sonics have to play in KeyArena through 2010, though he acknowledged both sides could agree to amend their agreement to allow a buyout.

Such an agreement would presumably cover the money the city would lose should the Sonics leave before 2010. Ceis said the Sonics have not yet approached the city about renegotiating the lease.