As NBA team owners cower in fear of league commissioner David Stern’s stern gag order, no doubt at least some of the owners are silently cheering on the outspoken mayor of Oklahoma City. Mayor Mick Cornett told me exclusively today that his empty Chesapeake Energy Arena, where the newbie Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to be playing, is the fault of . . . the players’ agents.
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“I think the players have been misled by their agents, and if you think that the commissioner and the owners wanted to start cancelling games I just can’t imagine where that line of thinking would come from.”
Cornett is livid. He says his city will lose anywhere from $1.3 million to 1.5 million in revenue from each cancelled game. While a million bucks may parse out to a pittance for the Kobes and LeBrons of the world, to Cornett it’s a slap in the collective face of his city’s taxpayers. The arena is in the middle of a $92 million makeover funded by a one-cent sales tax that includes a new scoreboard and remodeled suites.
“The arena is under construction, because we’re expanding it as part of our NBA relocation deal with the league. But still, a million dollars is a million dollars into the economy and we could withstand a couple of games because that’s what we’re losing from the first two weeks’ cancellation. But if this goes on and if this were to somehow become the whole season, it would become a significant economic impact and as I mentioned it would also impact our ability to sell Oklahoma City to a worldwide audience.”
Cornett said the owners "have to have" a better deal, and he then lit into players’ agents.
“They’re wounding the game itself,” he said. “They’re wounding their league, and this is gonna have long-term repercussions if this keeps going.”
Repercussions, he conceded, might be to the tune of $50 million in lost city revenue if the entire season is a wash.
“That’s no fun, and you know, our economy could withstand it better than most but no economy is going to say that’s enjoyable.”
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Cornett was an all-state athlete, attended the University of Oklahoma and later worked at the state’s largest advertising firm. So he knows how to grab attention. When asked if a cancelled season might raise his city’s enviable 5 percent unemployment rate, he quipped, “I can’t imagine Kevin Durant lining up at the unemployment line, but if (a canceled season) were to happen you’d start to see unemployment lines increase.”
While mayors like Cornett are making their voices heard, their opinionated comments are a far cry from those of owners, who have stayed silent. I spoke with three team officials, none of whom would comment on the record. One even told me, “David Stern will fine us if we even speak off the record.”