Sonics Move: Sonic Boom Jolts Seattle

Howard BurnsCorrespondent IApril 16, 2008

They're getting sleepless in Seattle.

The oldest professional sports franchise in the city has signaled its intention to bolt to Oklahoma City. Local officials want the team to honor its lease (which expires in 2010). The former owner claims he was bamboozled by the new owners when he sold the team, and, as a result, the two senators from the state of Washington are petitioning the NBA to delay a vote on relocation.

The Seattle SuperSonics have likely played their last game in The Emerald City,and at least one longtime employee says he's not hitching his wagon to the Oklahoma convoy.

Kevin Calabro, the play-by-play voice of the Sonics for the past 21 years and one of the most respected announcers in the league, told the Seattle Times he has no plans to uproot his family. He and his wife, Sue, have four children.

If the Sonics do pull up stakes, Calabro's final broadcast was last Friday night.

"It's been a dream job, and it continues to be a dream job," Calabro said. "Like any job, it has it ups and downs, but I'm working in the toy department, and you can't get a better job than that. No regrets. A lot of great memories. Good experiences and good relationships.

"I would like to continue my association with the NBA in some way as a broadcaster, and I'll pursue that if they do move out of town."

When the NBA saw how fervent the fan support was in Oklahoma City during the time the New Orleans Hornets played there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was only a matter of time before the league placed a franchise there permanently.

Enter Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett, who led a group that bought the Sonics from Starbucks czar Howard Schultz in 2006.

Despite a complete rebuild of Seattle's Key Arena 14 years ago, the only chance the city had to keep the Sonics was to rally support for a proposed new $500 million downtown facility. The citizenry was understandably lukewarm to the concept having already funded new stadiums for the NFL's Seahawks and Major League Baseball's Mariners.

When Bennett bought the Sonics, he and the league had to know the chances of a new arena being supported were slim and none.

Now Schultz is threatening a lawsuit against the Bennett group alleging it misstated its intentions for the team when he sold them the Sonics for $350 million.

It sounds more like someone trying to cover his behind in the midst of acrimonious times in his hometown. After all, Schultz is the guy who's always going on about the positive "customer experience" at his empire of coffee houses. Apparently the customers in Seattle aren't too thrilled about seeing their 40-year-old NBA team hit the road.

At least Calabro should come out of this in good shape.

He's established himself as one of the better play-by-play men in the league and has done games nationally for ESPN Radio and TNT, so another NBA broadcasting gig is probably in the cards if the Sonics skip town.

For countless other staffers and those who make up the team's loyal fan base, the future is a lot more uncertain.