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News » Q&A with Clay Bennett

Q&A with Clay Bennett

Q&A with Clay Bennett
Entering Tuesday night's road game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder was 13-38 overall and 3-20 away from home.

But Thunder owner Clay Bennett considers the 2008-09 season to be a resounding success because the young team has shown definite signs of growth and because of the strong support of corporate sponsors and fans.

In the 30-team NBA, the Thunder ranks 12th in average home attendance.

On Tuesday, before addressing a Friends of Finance luncheon crowd of 350 at the University of Tulsa, Bennett discussed the Thunder's inaugural season.

When the Thunder was 26 games under .500 before New Year's Eve, did you envision this sort of turnaround? After a 3-29 start, the Thunder prevailed in 10 of 19 games. Each of the last seven losses was by 10 or fewer points.

I absolutely felt like we had the right guys. That was part of the frustration and disappointment of the start.

Now, we see their talent emerge and their confidence grow. I knew of the commitment that (the players) had to each other. Their spirit was never broken at all. The tough start only had them working harder.

Some teams would quit at 3-29.

That's not in these guys.

They're about getting better every day. They work as hard in practice as they do in games.

At about the midway mark of the 2005-06 season, Oklahoma fans seemed to really embrace the Hornets. Have the fans reached that same point with the Thunder?

I believe they have.

There's no hard and fast way to measure this, but it's my sense that we turned the corner when we won a big game (over Golden State) on New Year's Eve. The (Thunder) was clearly playing better and with more energy. I felt at that point that we began to emerge from the shadow of the Hornets and began to establish our own identity in a public sense.

For the 2008-09 season, sponsorships and tickets were sold before the economic crisis fully bloomed. Are you and other NBA owners bracing for a tough 2009- 10 business year?

I think we're all very realistic about this economy. This is a serious recession. It will affect many of our sponsors and season-ticket holders. That said, we see remarkable commitment from our sponsors and ticket holders. Clearly, there will be an effect on sales, but we're going to work very hard to mitigate that the best we can and accommodate our customers in every way we can.

Kevin Durant becomes a free agent during the summer of 2010. Russell Westbrook becomes a free agent in 2011. Durant should command something in the range of a five-year contract and $80 million (if not more). Are you confident that the Thunder can re-sign young stars like Durant and Westbrook, and can the Thunder attract difference- making free agents from other teams?

We're absolutely building our payroll to have the most flexibility possible.

When you look five or 10 years into the future, does the Thunder remain a hot commodity? Do you continue to draw crowds of 18,000?

When I walk the (Ford Center) and see who's in the building, I see that we touch every demographic.

Young people seem to really love the connection with the players. I think it will continue to build.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: February 13, 2009


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