This piece from over the weekend got me thinking. Basically, it’s this: Oklahoma City residents approved a tax increase in 2008 that would pay for arena upgrades and a new practice facility, should an NBA team happen to relocate here (wink, wink).
Well, one did. And for three years, that NBA team has happily occupied the arena while upgrades went on and a new practice facility was built. All of this cost some $93.1 million and is still ongoing as Chesapeake Arena continues with its renovation right now.
Taxpayers obviously approved this with the expectation that they were essentially paying for an NBA team to play in an improved arena. Don’t approve it and there would be a chance that NBA team would look elsewhere. But now, as Michael Kimball said in his story, “Oklahoma City faces the prospect of a season without the headline tenant residents counted on when they approved taxing themselves to pay for it.” It’s pretty obvious that a season without Thunder basketball will hit downtown Oklahoma City pretty hard economically and to further the kick in the pants, we’re paying taxes for something that might not be needed, at least for a year. Ouch.
Which made me wonder: If a league-imposed lockout causes the Thunder to miss an entire season, do the residents of Oklahoma City who are paying for an arena and practice facility thinking they get to watch their favorite team in it, have a class-action case against the NBA? Or the Thunder? Or someone?
A dumb question, I agree, but I was curious. Keep in mind Clay Bennett settled for $1.6 million with three Sonics fans over a season ticket lawsuit, which really sounded like a pretty dumb suit as well. But someone was willing to wonder and it paid off. And because people love to file lawsuits (obviously) and you know there’s a group of overzealous Thunder fans ready to take matters into their own hands to make sure there’s a season. I solicited the help of a very bright lawyer friend and he basically shot it all down. His answer:
The residents can’t do anything (except vote for new city leadership), no matter how mad they are (except for some rare instances where they can sue as taxpayers on behalf of the city who won’t act in its own best interests, but that is a really complicated legal discussion. Wikipedia “qui tam” which is probably not applicable here). Ultimately the city is the only entity with rights at stake. The citizens themselves almost certainly have no personal interests at stake (even if they think they do).
In addition, I’m not even sure for what the city would be going after the Thunder, at least in terms of the arena renovations. OKC passed its own laws, and decided to spend its own money. To paraphrase Rashard Lewis, who is my favorite person of late, “When it comes to [monetary benefit from a city], the [team] aren’t sitting there negotiating that contract. [They’re] sitting at home and [their] agent[lawyer] calls [them], saying, ‘I got [$90 million in facilities benefits] on the table.’ [The team is] not going to sit there and say, ‘Naw, that’s too much [we might not even play]. Go out there and negotiate $20 or $30 [million] less.’”
The City of OKC chose to undertake some spending that essentially directly benefitted the Thunder. The Thunder were not going to object to that. Still, the city was betting that money would be a good investment. At the same time, you cannot pass a law compelling someone to shoot baskets just because you want to give them a nice building to do it in (just like you cannot pass a law compelling someone to lay bricks – which in the case of 08-09 Thunder might be the same thing!).
What the city could have done was compelled the Thunder VIA CONTRACT to pay money in exchange for using the Ford center whether or not the arena and/or practice facilities were actually used (i.e. in the event of a lockout). But NBA teams don’t agree to that kind of stuff, I would guess. I would guess the Ford Center contract/rental agreement gives the Thunder an out and out in the event of a lockout/ cancelled season, etc. In any event, the city would have to be suing under a breach of its contract with the Thunder for using the Ford center. The city could not sue the Thunder because the city made a bad decision in deciding to upgrade the Ford Center and build some basketball practice courts.
Kind of like the city can decide to build jogging trails in OKC, but it can’t sue its citizens for being fat just because they choose not to use the jogging trail. It’s just unfortunate spending decisions.
So there you have it. I think what he’s saying is that we’re all fat and it’s Rashard Lewis’ fault we won’t be seeing any basketball.