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Looking Back On 10 Years Since Oklahoma City's Rise To The NBA

Oct 5, 2015

If you follow state Sen. David Holt on Twitter, you may have noticed a recurring hashtag over the past month or two. #10YearsBigLeagueCity. He was marking the anniversary, and the decade that’s passed, since Oklahoma City got its first taste of professional basketball.

Holt served as Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett’s chief of staff in the late 2000s shortly after the arrival of the New Orleans Hornets, and a few years later when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City, changing its name to the Thunder. He chronicles all of this in his 2012 book Big League City: Oklahoma City's Rise to the NBA.

During Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Hornets’ arena received extensive damage, and the team needed a place to play during the upcoming 2005 season less than three months away.

Oklahoma City had flirted with professional sports before when they unsuccessfully tried to lure a National Hockey League expansion team in the 1990s. But in June 1997, they were told no, because the television market was too small.

Fast forward eight years later, in the aftermath of Katrina. Mayor Mick Cornett had been in office for a little over a year, and had an extensive sports background as a television anchor, the founder of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, baseball card store owner, play-by-play announcer, and almost-minor league hockey manager. The original series of MAPS projects had just been completed, but the word “Oklahoma City” in the national consciousness was still always followed by the word, “bombing.”

Cornett wanted to change that, and the tragic events in New Orleans planted seeds of opportunity to do that.

“Earlier that year, Mayor Cornett had gone and seen [NBA Commissioner] David Stern, which is a critical chapter in this tale, because we just weren’t on their radar at all, and probably still an afterthought and always would be until we got a true opportunity to prove ourselves,” Holt said. “Katrina gave us that opportunity, but Mayor Cornett laid the foundation by pitching us to the NBA in person earlier that year. It was ultimately just good timing that he had already done that.”

On Wednesday, September 21, 2005, the Oklahoma City Council voted unanimously to approve a deal bringing the New Orleans Hornets to town to play 35 home games in the Ford Center.

In 2008, Oklahoma City wrote a new chapter in its 123-year history with the arrival of its first major league professional sports franchise. The Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma after Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sold the team to an investment group headed by businessman Clay Bennett. Cornett's pitch to the NBA earlier in 2005 initially put Oklahoma City on NBA Commissioner David Stern's radar. In March 2008, the NBA visited the state during their consideration to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

"Clay Bennett, the owner of the Sonics, now Thunder, brought all of Oklahoma’s leaders into one room," Holt said. "That unity blew the NBA away. They’d never seen anything like that, and I don’t know if it’s because we just are who we are as Oklahomans, or if it’s because we’re big enough to be an NBA city, but not so big that we’re at each others’ throats."

In 1993, Oklahoma City voters approved a series of quality-of-life initiatives known as the Metropolitan Area Projects, or MAPS. That series of construction projects revitalized the former warehouse area known as Bricktown, turning it into a major entertainment district. In 2008, voters approved a one-cent sales tax to raise an estimated $121 million for improvements to the then-Ford Center (now the Chesapeake Energy Arena) and the construction of a state-of-the-art practice facility.

"What I always liked about MAPS is that it’s accountable to the people," Holt said. "They voted the tax in. The other thing that’s critical to remember is taxes are appropriate if they’re funding things that are appropriate for a government to do, or that level of government to do. It’s absolutely the role of a city to provide for quality of life amenities."

Holt concludes his book during the 2009-2010 NBA season, as the Thunder started to turn its record around and contend for playoff spots and league championships. Holt says Seattle's contentious battle with its former ownership and the city government, the enthusiastic response to the temporary tenents in the Hornets, and voters approval of capital improvement proposals in the months and years leading up to relocation gave Oklahoma City the opportunity to prove itself on a national stage.

"David Stern has talked about wanting teams in Paris, Rome, and London," Holt said. "I don’t think with our history that we could’ve competed with those types of cities. That’s why it’s so great that we’re in the game now, because if that was the type of competition we were stacked up against for expansion teams in the future, we would’ve had our challenges before us."

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On Rumors of Behind-the-Scenes Discussions Between Seattle SuperSonics Ownership, and Oklahoma City Leaders

“Though everyone outside of City Hall assumed that Cornett and Bennett spoke every day, or at least had some sort of understanding in place, there had been no communication between Bennett and Cornett confirming that the Sonics would relocate to Oklahoma City, if they relocated at all. At one point, Cornett even told me, ‘I bet even my own family thinks I’ve had that conversation with Clay. I haven’t. No two people more often accused of conspiracy have ever spoken to each other less.’”

On the Role of OKC City Manager Jim Couch in Negotiating with the NBA

"I can’t think of another city executive that’s probably ever negotiated an NBA lease with two different NBA teams. If he ever wants another job, maybe that’s a business he could do in to – negotiating with the NBA. He did a fine job. I think we have as fair a deal, again, when you have as little leverage as we did, you have to give a little bit. But I think he protected our interests pretty well. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say in the Hornets deal, they ended up writing us a check, and that is unprecedented in modern NBA history."

On "What If?" Mick Cornett Had Been Elected to Congress in 2006

"Clearly you would’ve introduced uncertainty into the situation. You would’ve had to elect another mayor, and a critical aspect of professional sports in the era we live in is that you have to have a government that is supportive, and that was obviously not what was happening in Seattle. Of course, to add a little fantasy to your question, if he hadn’t been mayor in the first place, I don’t think we would be having this conversation, because it was his interest in the issue that caused him to go to New York before Hurricane Katrina and pitch the NBA on Oklahoma City. If he hadn’t done that, we would’ve remained off the radar, just as we always had been."

FULL TRANSCRIPT

KURT GWARTNEY, HOST: David Holt, welcome to our program, and we’re recording this as the NBA Playoffs are actually underway, so we really don’t have any idea if Oklahoma City’s moved from the ranks of “Big League City” to “Championship City”, and of course Big League City is the title of your book we’re talking about today.

STATE SEN. DAVID HOLT: Mmmhmm.

GWARTNEY: I want to first ask you if you ever thought, when you served as Mayor Mick Cornett’s chief of staff, that you’d be watching playoff games in your hometown?

HOLT: (LAUGHS) Well, obviously at some point I did, but when I took that position in early 2006, we had just gotten the [New Orleans] Hornets, and it was still, and it still is today, pretty surreal. You know, I guess at that moment people might’ve dreamed that we would see the playoffs. We didn’t necessarily know if it would be our real team playing in the playoffs. The Hornets were sort-of half our team, and they threatened to make the playoffs, but they never did. But the whole thing – regular season, playoffs, whatever it is – has been a surreal ride, and an incredible story. No matter who tells it, it’s a heck of a story, and that’s why I wrote the book.

GWARTNEY: So how did the Hurricane Katrina event and the Hornets set the stage for what we have now in the Thunder?

HOLT: Well, that gave us the opportunity that we apparently needed, because we were not impressing anyone on paper. It was obviously a tragic event for New Orleans, but the fact that the team needed to play somewhere else gave Oklahoma City an opportunity. Earlier that year, Mayor Cornett had gone and seen [NBA Commissioner] David Stern, which is a critical chapter in this tale, because we just weren’t on their radar at all, and probably still an afterthought and always would be until we got a true opportunity to prove ourselves. Katrina gave us that opportunity, but Mayor Cornett laid the foundation by pitching us to the NBA in person earlier that year. It was ultimately just good timing that he had already done that.

GWARTNEY: I remember, and you were there, at the National Conference of Mayors when they met in Oklahoma City, and the mayors of Oklahoma City, former mayors and Mayor Cornett all were on that panel together. And I remember some of the other mayors from other cities commenting on the unity that Oklahoma City seemed to have in these projects. They really seemed almost like they couldn’t believe it was true.

HOLT: (LAUGHS) Yeah, it is fairly unique. In my book, I tell the story of when the NBA made their site visit while they were considering the relocation of the Sonics to Oklahoma City. And Clay Bennett, the owner of the Sonics, now Thunder, brought all of Oklahoma’s leaders into one room. That unity blew the NBA away. They’d never seen anything like that, and I don’t know if it’s because we just are who we are as Oklahomans, or if it’s because we’re big enough to be an NBA city, but not so big that we’re at each others’ throats.

GWARTNEY: You now serve in the State Senate, and especially in this legislative session, we’ve heard a lot about taxes. Oklahomans tend to like and vote people into office who say we’re going to cut taxes, but you also talk in the book about how the MAPS program, and that tax, really makes where we are today possible.

HOLT: What I always liked about MAPS is that it’s accountable to the people. They voted the tax in. So ultimately, the people made the decision, and what more can you ask for? The other thing that’s critical to remember is taxes are appropriate if they’re funding things that are appropriate for a government to do, or that level of government to do. It’s absolutely the role of a city to provide for quality of life amenities.

GWARTNEY: What had to happen to make the MAPS tax a success? It seems like, especially in the first part of the book, you really show how that leads up to the Thunder coming to Oklahoma City.

HOLT: Well, the true battle is the implementation, and MAPS was very contentious. It was over budget. It took a long time for things to actually happen. It was four years until the first project opened. People weren’t ready for that. They thought it was going to happen faster. They voted for MAPS, and the next day they wanted their arena, and their ballpark, and all the things they’d been promised, and that takes time. What happened with MAPS is the arena was one of the later projects, and they were just running out of money, and it was not going to get either built, or built to the kind of minimum specifications that the NBA or the NHL would require. So it ended being very critical that Mayor Humpheries proposed an extension. And that was an issue in his 1998 election. He got the extension done thereafter. Even then, we still needed, obviously, some improvements, and that’s what happened in the 2008 vote.

GWARTNEY: Working as a reporter during much of the time you write about in the book, there was an assumption I heard in a lot of places of all these behind-the-scenes discussions between the city and the Sonics and the owners, and I want you to read a section which kind of responds to the rumors and whispers that were going on about that time.

HOLT: OK, so this is page 83 in the book:

“Though everyone outside of City Hall assumed that Cornett and Bennett spoke every day, or at least had some sort of understanding in place, there had been no communication between Bennett and Cornett confirming that the Sonics would relocate to Oklahoma City, if they relocated at all. At one point, Cornett even told me, ‘I bet even my own family thinks I’ve had that conversation with Clay. I haven’t. No two people more often accused of conspiracy have ever spoken to each other less.’”

GWARTNEY: Why do you think there was this buzz that those two leaders were really working this out all behind-the-scenes?

HOLT: Well, having been involved in public policy at the federal, state, and local level, I can tell you it is never as conspiratorial as the media and citizens think. We’re not that clever. (LAUGHS) Sometimes it should be more conspiratorial. No two people can keep a secret, and oftentimes the government equivalent of “Oh, I forgot to tell you I left the trash can behind your car last night,” can be Vice President Joe Biden saying “Oh, Mr. President, I forgot to tell you that I came out for gay marriage last weekend, and now you have to.” Those are the kind of things, it seems hard to believe that people of that stature don’t work those things out, but they do. We’re all humans, and people ought to just understand that. So in this case, I think it was half-intentional, half-unintentional that they had not communicated significantly – Clay Bennett and Mick Cornett. As I say in the book, I think Mayor Cornett felt that it was better not to be conspiring because then he could honestly say that he wasn’t. I think the reality was the Sonics were not presumed to move here, even if everybody else thought that. They were trying to work the deal in Seattle because they would’ve made a lot of money, and they are capitalists.

GWARTNEY: As you’ve reflected on that time, did you find things that didn’t quite match up with what you remembered from that time? Were there any other surprises in the research as you went back, even though it’s really recent history?

HOLT: I was probably like most people in Oklahoma City that I either assumed or hoped that the owners of the Sonics had always intended to move the team to Oklahoma City. I think in retrospect, and upon examining the record and focusing on it more than I ever did, I really believe they were quite serious about making a deal in Seattle. That was the condition upon which they had to buy the team from Howard Schultz. Again, there was a high motivation to make a deal in Seattle because if they had made an arena deal in Seattle, they would’ve greatly increased the marketability of the team, and they would’ve had the opportunity to sell it for a high premium – I mean tens of millions, in excess of $100,000,000 could’ve been added to the value of the team. All of that is really supported by the communication they were engaged in that later came out in court filings a few days before Clay Bennett and his partners bought the Sonics. He communicated to them, “Listen, here’s the deal. If we make an arena deal, which we’re going to try to do, we’re going to make a lot of money, and we’ll sell the team. If we don’t, then we’ll have the opportunity to potentially relocate the team to Oklahoma City.” That threat of relocation is what gave them the leverage that Howard Schultz lacked. As a Seattle native, and CEO of Starbucks, nobody took him seriously when he said, “I’m going to move this team.” They were like, “No, you’re not. You’re Howard Schultz, you’re Mr. Seattle. You’re not going to that.” He even, on the day he sold the team, said publicly, “This ownership group obviously has leverage that I did not have, and I hope the policymakers of Seattle will appreciate that, and will finally work with them,” and I think that Bennett and his partners believed the same. The mayor and the state leaders of Washington would say, “Wow, OK, these guys really can move the team. Oklahoma City is desperate for a team. These guys are from Oklahoma City. Let’s work with them.” That is obviously not what happened. Instead, they moved right through the stages of grief to, “Get out of here! We know you want to move the team, and we’re not even going to try to keep you here.” That was sincerely surprising to Bennett’s group, because as you alluded to earlier in this discussion, they were used to working with Oklahoma City, which was a lot more unified and eager to please. That was something to original question about what surprised me. I think I got a better understanding for the reality that the Sonics were not always destined to move to Oklahoma City. There were competing motivations even amongst that ownership group, and they lost some owners over that. There were some investors in Oklahoma City that also believed the team would not move here, and they had no interest in owning a team in Seattle. They wanted a team in Oklahoma City. There are some big names in our business community that were not involved in that for that reason.

GWARTNEY: You deal a little bit in the book with some of the citizen opposition to one of those great political names, “MAPS for Millionaires,” and you’re credited with coming up with, or at least starting the idea of something on the other side of that. There were a lot of people who had a hard time understanding why the city needed to fund the arena, to invest the money here for people who really are some of the richest people in the country, and certainly here in the state. Looking back on that, how do you see their arguments and where we ended up today?

HOLT: Yes, your reference to “MAPS for Millionaires” – alliteration is everything in politics (LAUGHS) if you can come up with alliteration. And I wouldn’t necessarily take credit for “Big League City.” That was a pollster in Oklahoma City named Pat McFerron. As you point out, I kind of take pride in the fact that I sort of planted the seed, but those three words first came out of his mouth. The arena we built out of MAPS cost somewhere around $90 million. Dallas, in the same period of time, opened an arena that cost, I want to say off the top of my head, north of $400 million. Kansas City had built an arena that was open and sitting there waiting for somebody, that had cost, I want to say north of $250 to $300 million. Our arena wasn’t so cheap because we were really good at saving money. Our arena was cheap because it was cheap (LAUGHS). We had cut corners, no question, but we had put the bare bones in place. We had the appropriate seating. We had, at that time, over 19,000 seats. We had suites. There were kind of bare bones. People here wouldn’t necessarily know, but if you go to other NBA cities, there’s a bathroom in every suite – these little luxuries that take the price tag a little higher. So our arena was simple, but fit the bill for the Hornets relocation. But it was not going to be satisfactory to the NBA as a whole. And that’s what important to remember. The NBA was making a decision about relocation, not just the owners of the Sonics. The NBA as a whole want to see cities present arenas to them that meet their current standard, and ours fell a little short. I think it was of no small consequence that the team was seeking to relocate out of a place because the public would not invest in the arena. They could not very well move to a city that made the same refusal. It is perfectly reasonable on the part of the opposition to say, “We don’t want to play that game.” I think the choice that the city leadership wanted to put in front of the voters was, “Here’s the deal: if you want to be in the NBA, here’s what you have to do. We don’t set those terms. We would be right there with the opponents if we could be, but that’s not an option. And if you don’t want to invest in the arena, then we won’t have an NBA team. We’ll live with that, because you get to make the choice. We’ll have a vote at the ballot box.” But it was important that we made sure the public understood there wasn’t a third way. That was what I felt like the opposition was pitching, that there was a third way: “We’ll get the team, and we won’t invest in the arena.” We didn’t get to make that decision. That was up to the NBA, and they were very clear, and their business model is clear, and if you look at all the cities around the country, whether you like it or not, that’s the deal. They had all the leverage. We had very little. We were a small market, and we were deluding ourselves if we thought that just because we sold a lot of tickets to the Hornets that we were somehow in demand. Because we sold a lot of tickets to the Hornets, we entered the conversation. That was all we had really done. If Los Angeles can’t hold an NFL team, I assure you the NBA could live without Oklahoma City. So we had no leverage. We had to put forth an adequate investment, and quite frankly, our arena with the original MAPS investment, and the Big League City investment, still cost less than most NBA arenas in the nation. I think we still did pretty well in the deal when you think in terms of the NBA model. I’m like everybody else. If we could’ve gotten it for free, then of course we should get it for free. That’s what your government leaders should do, and that’s the way they should feel. They should drive the hardest bargain possible, and I think that’s exactly what we did. Like I said, we got out pretty easy in the deal compared to other cities, but we still had to do something if we wanted the NBA. If we didn’t want the NBA, that was an option too.

GWARTNEY: One of the characters in the book that I don’t think I really realized how big of a part he played in it was the city manager. Tell me a little bit about how he evolved into this negotiator.

HOLT: Well, I tell you, people don’t realize how important the city manager is to Oklahoma City as a position, and then as a person. The one we have, Jim Couch, he probably likes it that way (LAUGHS). That’s perfectly fine with him that people don’t know how important he is. Our mayor is paid $24,000. In the history of our city it has been treated at most times as a ceremonial position. Only in the modern era has he become such a visionary leader the people turn to on a daily basis, but if you go back in history, you’ll have mayors that just showed up for the council meetings Tuesday mornings and went back to their other jobs. They just kept an eye on things. Now, mayors are important today, more important than they have been, but that doesn’t diminish the role of the city manager. The city manager oversees 4,000 city employees, is paid a living wage as opposed to the mayor, and if the city manager is not doing a good job, then the mayor is spending his time explaining why the dead dog on 10th Street didn’t get picked up, instead of scheming and dreaming about the NBA. So, off-topic from this, but he’s very critical in the water conversation right now, which is another big deal Oklahoma City is involved in right now.

GWARTNEY: But it’s interesting that he actually has background in the water situation, but had no background in bringing major sports teams to the city (LAUGHS).

HOLT: Right, right, and few people do. But he did a great job. He did have background in negotiation, and he had been the MAPS director in the late 90s, and that’s what propelled him from being a water director to being a city manager, and then suddenly thrust into the role of negotiating the leases with two NBA teams. I say in the book I can’t imagine there’s another city executive, and before you say Los Angeles, that arena is privately owned, so it’s not the city manager, where they have two NBA teams. I can’t think of another city executive that’s probably ever negotiated an NBA lease with two different NBA teams. If he ever wants another job, maybe that’s a business he could do in to – negotiating with the NBA. He did a fine job. I think we have as fair a deal, again, when you have as little leverage as we did, you have to give a little bit. But I think he protected our interests pretty well. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say in the Hornets deal, they ended up writing us a check, and that is unprecedented in modern NBA history. He worked a deal banking on their low expectations. They came to us wanting a guarantee of their revenues, and he said, “OK, we’ll do that, but if we exceed that guarantee, we’re going to share in the upside,” and that’s exactly what he did. Citizens of Oklahoma City got $3.8 million back from the Hornets, which of course was later applied to arena improvements. That was a savings he negotiated for us. It was pretty remarkable, and I assure that does not happen very often in NBA history – that they write checks to cities. It’s generally the other way around.

GWARTNEY: You’re in the Senate seat formerly held by former President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, who’s now Secretary of State. He wasn’t too excited when the plan to bring an NBA team to Oklahoma City required some help from state government. What turned that around?

HOLT: The team wanted, as people may remember, wanted two things. I was most involved in their need for capital improvements to the arena, and a practice facility, but they also went to the state separately from the city, and I think Jim Couch wanted it that way. He wanted that to be a different deal. He wanted to work his deal with the team, and if the team wanted to go to the state, so be it. He didn’t want to be in the middle of that. So the team went to the state, where, as you mentioned, my predecessor in the Senate, Glenn Coffee. Their proposal to the state was they wanted to be included in the existing Quality Jobs Act, which would then essentially mean that their income taxes that were paid by the players and other team personnel would be rebated back to them over the course of 15 years. That would then fund the relocation fee, because the NBA is smart enough to put a fee on everything, and they charge a team $30 million to move in this case. Just for the right to move, they were going to charge the team $30 million, so the team felt the state ought to pay for that. They also had a lot of costs getting out of their lease with Seattle, as documented in the book. There was a significant lawsuit that ended up being settled. There were $30 million associated with that to be paid to Seattle. So the team was looking for a way to cover those costs. George Shinn, before them, had sort-of secretly been negotiating that, in his attempts to get the Hornets to relocate to Oklahoma City. Now, Senator Coffee wasn’t pleased with that, because he felt it was actually politically more sellable to have capital infrastructure…

GWARTNEY: Right.

HOLT: …because when you fund capital infrastructure, at least people have something they can go look at, and say, “My money was well-spent.” With the soft costs of paying the NBA a relocation fee, and paying the city of Seattle to get out of the lease, it just didn’t feel like, to him, that that would be easy to sell. After that meeting the state had with the team, he immediately called City Hall, and called me, and I got him on with the mayor and Jim Couch, and he was very frustrated that their part of the deal seemed a lot more difficult to sell politically. Now, what was interesting, and this is how Jim Couch thinks, like a businessman, he said, “But in your part of the deal, cash flows. Because we’re going to build this arena with tax dollars, should the voters approve it, and there’s really no obvious payoff for that. Of course we’ll have all this economic development, but it doesn’t cash flow directly. Whereas, at the state level, if the team was going to get its income tax rebated to it, that was income tax the state wouldn’t have if the team never came here, so at cash flow, it paid for itself. If you truly believe the team wouldn’t come without the incentive at the state level, then it was money you’d never have, and now it’s out the door again, but you never missed anything. As I say in the book, they were both right. Glenn Coffee was right, it was probably more difficult to sell politically, but Jim Couch was right, it was probably a better business deal that what the city was having to do. It’s an interesting episode in politics, where what is the best business deal is not always the best, easiest deal to sell to the public.

GWARTNEY: Now I want to do a little bit of fantasy history here, so what do you think would’ve happened if Mayor Cornett had become Congressman Cornett?

HOLT: Interesting. OK, so as you mentioned, Mayor Cornett ran for Congress in 2006, right in the middle of this. His primary was actually a month after Clay Bennett and his partners bought the Sonics, so we’re right in the middle. The Hornets are still thinking about trying to stay in Oklahoma City, but the NBA is not letting them. Suddenly you have an ownership group that bought the Sonics. If he had been elected to Congress, of course he did not, he lost in the primary runoff to Mary Fallin, who of course is now our governor, but at the time was running for Congress. Clearly you would’ve introduced uncertainty into the situation. You would’ve had to elect another mayor, and a critical aspect of professional sports in the era we live in is that you have to have a government that is supportive, and that was obviously not what was happening in Seattle. Mayor Nickels had only been to three Sonics games in eight years as mayor, which spoke volumes about his interest in the issue, whereas wild horses couldn’t drag Mayor Cornett away from the games. If he had been replaced by a mayor that was not supportive, that could’ve put the whole situation in danger a couple years later when the Sonics did come to Oklahoma City, and wanted to have this vote, which had to be called by the Mayor and Council, and needed to be able to negotiate with people who actually wanted the team. Again, you just never know who would’ve been elected, and I can’t conjecture who might’ve run, but it certainly would’ve introduced uncertainty in the situation, and though I know he felt that was his opportunity to serve at that level, and it always interested him to be in Congress, it ultimately was the best thing for Oklahoma City’s rise to big league status that he lost, because we really needed him where he was, as it turned out. He was still a critical player in the relocation of the Sonics, and his support of that idea was really important. Of course, to add a little fantasy to your question, if he hadn’t been mayor in the first place, I don’t think we would be having this conversation, because it was his interest in the issue that caused him to go to New York before Hurricane Katrina and pitch the NBA on Oklahoma City. If he hadn’t done that, we would’ve remained off the radar, just as we always had been. I don’t think when Hurricane Katrina happened, we very well might’ve failed to beat out other competitors like San Diego, or Kansas City, or Las Vegas, or whoever else might’ve hosted the team temporarily, we never would’ve gotten our opportunity to host the Hornets, and ultimately the Thunder.

GWARTNEY: And the second fantasy question, so, if the Sonics had not moved to Oklahoma City, do you think we would have an NBA team by now?

HOLT: It all depends on how that scenario played out. If it was because the voters had turned down Big League City in March 2008, no. I think that would’ve ended it, at least for a generation, because everybody would’ve said, “Well, the voters don’t want an NBA team, so we’re moving on.” The NBA certainly would’ve said that. If it had happened that way because the Sonics made an arena deal, I don’t know if we would have it by now, but I think we would still be in the conversation. We would be competing for the Sacramento Kings, or whoever is today’s team du jour that’s looking to relocate. Just a few weeks after the Hornets arrived, and our support of them completely changed everyone’s view of Oklahoma City, inside and outside. David Stern came here, and he said, “Oklahoma City is now at the top of the relocation list.” And I think we would’ve stayed there until we got a team, unless we had done something proactive to reject the NBA, and that’s what would’ve happened if the voters in 2008 rejected the Big League City vote. That would’ve sent the message to the NBA that we’re not interested in having them. But I don’t know if we’d have a team by now. You can’t go buy them at the NBA Team Store. They’re pretty hard to get, and they don’t relocate very often, even though it seems like in our history that’s all they do. Really, you only have a team relocate every five or ten years, and the NBA is not interested in creating new teams right now, and those that they have discussed creating – David Stern has talked about wanting teams in Paris, Rome, and London. I don’t think with our history that we could’ve competed with those types of cities. That’s why it’s so great that we’re in the game now, because if that was the type of competition we were stacked up against for expansion teams in the future, we would’ve had our challenges before us.

GWARTNEY: David Holt, author of Big League City: Oklahoma City’s Rise to the NBA, thank you so much for coming in today.

HOLT: Thank you for having me on.

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