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The Coffee Man and OKC Thunder Share A Cup.



Before they morphed into the OKC Thunder, your NBA Oklahoma City Thunder, they were the Seattle Supersonics.

Everybody knows this, or ought to. The Sonics were Portland’s best rival on the west coast. Better than the Warriors who just spanked the Blazers, better than the Kings, Clippers, and Lakers.

It was a Northwest thing.

Watching the Blazers play the Thunder with non-sports people is a golden opportunity to review what happened.

Reading former Sonics owner Howard Schultz’s recent letter to his partners on adds to the story.

Best of all is tying it all together with Grantland’s post on media relations between the Thunder and OKC sports writers.

Before dumping on the way the Sonics were swindled out of town, let’s agree that Starbucks billionaire Schultz is a good man with the best of intentions.

How do you know this?

Here’s a man trying to ignite conversations about better race relations by encouraging the workforce you see when you buy Starbucks coffee to write “Race Together” on the cup.


“I want to thank those of you who took time this week to share what you were seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking as we rolled out Race Together across the country.  An issue as tough as racial and ethnic inequality requires risk-taking and tough-minded action. And let me reassure you that our conviction and commitment to the notion of equality and opportunity for all has never been stronger.

“Take care of yourselves and each other.  I am proud to be your partner. 

“With great respect,   


Risk-taking and tough-minded action sounds like a man with a plan.

Does Howard Schultz have his heart in the right place, or is he a dreamer with his head in a latte? Either way he’s pushing the right direction.

You can’t say the same thing with the way he offered up the Sonics for sale. When Schultz didn’t get the arena deal he needed, he sold the team with the condition that the new owners make a ‘good faith’ effort to keep the Sonics in Washington.

The new owner’s good faith effort was presenting a deal even less appealing than Schultz’s.

That’s how Clay Bennett got himself a team renamed the OKC Thunder.

Since then ESPN produced a 30 for 30 show called The Cheapness Of Clay Bennett. Too harsh? If Bennett didn’t point to the scoreboard, he could have.

Seattle: no NBA team.

OKC Thunder plays in Oklahoma City. Score for them?

This is what good faith sounds like in Bennett-land.

From wiki: On August 13, 2007, Aubrey McClendon, a minor partner of Bennett’s ownership group, said in an interview that the team was not purchased to keep it in Seattle but to relocate it to Oklahoma City. Bennett later denied such intentions, saying McClendon “was not speaking on behalf of the ownership group”. Due to his comments, McClendon was fined $250,000 by the NBA.

That’s a win for Bennett, who also had a voice preventing the relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Win win?

Howard Schultz pushed the Oklahoma ownership to act in ‘good faith.’ Now he pushes his fellow man to do the same. He works for the common good and keeps at it when things aren’t so good. There’s a lesson to learn.

You can’t say the same with the Thunder relationship with their press. They need some schooling.

The OKC Thunder know their product.

The ownership group knows how to handle their press.

Clamp down on awkward questions, the nagging attitude from reporters, and make OKC a destination for free agents. Imagine that pitch: “You’ll love it here. Nothing to do, but we’ll keep the press in a box.”

In a world of good and bad owners Schultz found a buyer. That the man was less than willing to work it out in Seattle, given his roots in Oklahoma dirt, is not as shocking as some professional sports moves.

Take that other league for example. Relocated NFL teams seem to involve stadium deals and tax breaks and midnight runs. The Baltimore Colts ran to Indianapolis; the Cleveland Browns dashed to Baltimore. The Oakland Raiders became the Los Angeles Raiders then returned to Oakland.

Now Los Angeles is on the radar for a two team move to town? No one reports the Rams and Raiders relocating but why shouldn’t they?

How would Clay Bennett and the OKC Thunder media-plan work with LA reporters? Limited player access, scripted responses. Call it the Marshawn Lynchification effect.

“All about that action, boss.”

The answer you don’t want, but get anyway.

Russell Westbrook has the role down cold. The big fish in a little dust bowl tells writers he doesn’t like them. Gives any answer he wants with team approval.

Sounds like a perfect place for an introvert, but why pretend you can’t work the room?

Westbrook is a UCLA guy. All UCLA guys don’t take that path. Kareem Abdul Jabbar works the TV camera like a pro. He seems to enjoy screen time, but then he wasn’t half naked in a locker room full of media people ‘looking for a story.’

Howard Schultz asks the world to open conversations on difficult topics with #Race Together.

What does Clay Bennett do?

Whatever he wants. Where’s the official NBA stance?

Let’s sit down with a cup of Starbucks and have a chat. Or get together for a cold one. Headgear optional.

race together








About David Gillaspie


  1. […] Sonics, owned by Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz, moved to Oklahoma City in a shady deal. The move ruined the best NW […]

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