The 1990s Seattle SuperSonics were one of the NBA’s best. Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Detlef Schrempf were the core of a team that went 63-19 in 1993-94. Two years later, they went 64-18 and advanced all the way to the NBA Finals. A little over a decade later, they were gone.
After the 2007-08 season, one in which Seattle went a dismal 20-62, the SuperSonics were no more. The team’s ownership group led by Howard Schultz sold the team to an investment group led by businessman Clay Bennett who eventually moved the team to Oklahoma City where they became the Thunder.
The key to Sonics staying in Seattle was a new arena. The old Seattle Center Coliseum was built in the 1960s and by the ‘90s the place was a dump. It was the worst venue in the NBA.
With the success of the ‘90s Sonics, a new arena was built for the 1995-96 season – Key Arena. At a time when the Bulls just opened the United Center, Key Arena was a joke. It was still a smaller building. Many said it felt like a college arena with a few more seats than the old Seattle Center.
When Bennett bought the team, one of the provisions of the sale was that Schultz’s investment group would secure a suitable arena where the Sonics would play. Key Arena was essentially a Band-Aid on a bigger problem. It was not a long-term solution. Bennett wanted a real NBA arena not one that would fit inside of the United Center.
Schultz’s group failed in attempts to persuade local governments to pay for a new complex. That led to Bennett, who is from Oklahoma City, to relocating the team. Seattle then sued Bennett’s investment group in an attempt to keep the team in Seattle. They lost. Schultz and the Sonics ownership were forced to pay $45 million for breaking the lease with Key Arena and another $30 million if Seattle did not have a new team within five years.
The franchise moved to Oklahoma City and began play in 2008-09. Seattle has not had an NBA franchise since.