Oklahoma City Oklahoma City finally got its moment on the big stage of pro sports. In not too long, however, all that will be left will be some NBA memories.
The relocated New Orleans Hornets will play their final
regular-season game in Oklahoma City tonight against the Denver Nuggets. The city is holding out hope a late push by the team could put some playoff buzz in Ford Center.
But the offseason will carry the Hornets home after a two-year relocation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, leaving Oklahoma City without a franchise again.
"We're still in uncharted territory," Mayor Mick Cornett said.
The Hornets have a farewell planned for the finale, which will be the team's 30th sellout in 71 Oklahoma City games over the past two seasons. NBA commissioner David Stern said he would be there to thank the city.
"I'm sure it's going to be emotional for a lot of our fans," Cornett said. "This has always been a temporary arrangement, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier. This town has fallen in love with this team, and fallen in love with the NBA product in general."
Oklahoma City began its efforts to land major-league sports in 1993. New Seattle SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett led a group that approached the NHL about a team. That bid ended in 1997, when Oklahoma City was one of the finalists not chosen in two rounds of NHL expansion.
Cornett stopped by Stern's office on a visit to New York, and it paid off when the commissioner recommended Oklahoma City to Hornets owner George Shinn after Katrina damaged the New Orleans Arena in August 2005. Shinn now believes "the pieces are in place and everything that needs to be done has been done" for Oklahoma City to return to major-league status.
"I think us coming through this storm to end up here and for this community to embrace us the way it did, I think it's one of the best sports stories in the country this past two years," Shinn said. "It's been good. I think this market has proved they're a major-league market, and it's just going to happen."
Stern has said Oklahoma City, where average attendance has been 18,329 the past two seasons, is at the top of the NBA's list to get the next available franchise. The issue is that the NBA has no plans for expansion. The SuperSonics have a lease to remain in Seattle through 2010.
"I don't have a team to send and I can't tell you a date, but it's my expectation that the NBA has not played its last game in Oklahoma City," Stern said.
Until a team becomes available, the city is left in a precarious waiting game.
"To a certain extent, the issues that remain are out of our control. There's very little proactively that we can do at this point," Cornett said.
"I'm uncomfortable recruiting teams that have leases in other cities, but nonetheless we know that teams relocate from time to time and we know that leagues expand from time to time, and we figure that we're going to be right there when those things happen."