The second whitest city in America (70.1 percent are white, 8.4 percent are black) came a step closer to losing its basketball team this week. The Seattle Sonics announced on July 18 that the team has been sold to a group from Oklahoma City, led by businessman Clay Bennett, for $350 million.

It's not surprising that Howard Schultz and company—which bought the team in 2001 for $200 million—threw in the towel. They failed to get anything (meaning a $200 million subsidy) out of the legislature for two sessions running. Thanks to Seattle City Council President Nick Licata, the Sonics also faced strict city-council guidelines for any deal with the city. Council parameters included: putting any public-funding proposal up for a public vote; using any new tax revenue for the Sonics to first pay off the 1995 loan; and ensuring that any non-Sonics revenues generated from KeyArena ultimately come back to the city. The Sonics also got clobbered with I-91—a stringent anti-subsidy initiative that 23,000 voters sent to this fall's ballot.

Bennett says he wants to keep the team in Seattle—if he can strike a deal with the city to renovate KeyArena. The team has a lease through 2010 and is expected to stay at least stay through next season.

There are currently three different deal scenarios on the table, which Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis had offered to the old ownership group last May. The Sonics never formally responded to the offers, Ceis says. Ceis says those deals are still on the table for the Oklahoma ownership group: a $198 million renovation with a $49 million contribution from the team; a $149 million renovation with $37 million from the team (both of those would have to be approved by voters); and a $50 million renovation.

Ceis said flatly he's not going to "go there" if Bennett's group tries to play Seattle off Oklahoma. "Nope, we're not doing that," Ceis says.

It does appear that Bennett's group will play that card, though. A spokesman for Chesapeake Energy Corporation, whose CEO is one of the new owners, told the Seattle Times: "The people of Seattle have to make a decision about how important NBA basketball is to them. The people of Oklahoma City really fell in love with NBA basketball. [New Orleans played in Oklahoma City last season after hurricane Katrina displaced them.] There's a lot of people in Oklahoma that would be excited to have this team in Oklahoma City as well."

Bennett's ownership group may be in for a surprise. The public is sick of subsidizing a private business that hasn't kept its end of the bargain. Indeed, our current lease is a bum deal for the city because we got stuck paying off the almost $74 million renovation we funded in 1995. Obviously, the Sonics were supposed to pay off the debt. Instead, we're paying $2.3 million a year (spiking at nearly $3 million last year) on a tab that's going hit about $130 million by 2014 when debt service is included.

This may explain why the anti-Sonics-subsidy initiative cruised onto the ballot.

"We sent a message that Seattle is not a socialist state," says I-91 co-chair Chris Van Dyk. "People don't want government subsidizing private business. They know that government doesn't pay their rents or leases. So why cover a guy who just cashed $50 million in stock options?"

Van Dyk says I-91 is staying on the ballot. "The city needs some standards by which to measure when public facilities are built on behalf of private, for-profit entities."