Why Clay Bennett is the perfect choice to judge the viability of Sacramento.

Ron Nabity

A special thanks goes out to photographer Ron Nabity for not only capturing a horrible NBA no call (no, goal tending was not called on Ibaka on this play either), but also for capturing the feeling I have in regards to Clay Bennett.  While so many people are up in arms over the appointment of Clay Bennett as chairman of the NBA Relocation Committee charged with determining the fate of the Sacramento Kings, I am hopeful that he is the perfect man for the job.  And by perfect man for the job, what I mean is, he is going to take the form of Serge Ibaka, stick his hand through the basket and swat away what looked like a sure fire dunk just a week ago.

For those of you who don’t know, Clay Bennett is the evil man who reached into the Emerald City and ripped its heart out.  He is also the man who took a team with no hope of getting a new arena, from the 14th largest television market and moved it to the 45th largest television market.  Wait a second, he did what?  Yes, he left the 14th largest television market for the 45th.

Why would someone do something like that?  It’s pretty simple if you’ve ever been to Oklahoma.

Have you ever heard of Meeker, Oklahoma?  How about Carl Hubbell?  Carl Hubbell was a Hall of Fame major league pitcher from 1928-1943 for the New York Giants.  Although Hubbell was born in Carthage, Missouri, he was raised in Meeker, Oklahoma, better known as “Meeker Oklahoma, Home of Carl Hubbell.”  During the 1934 All-Star game, Carl Hubbell struck out five consecutive Hall of Fame hitters- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, cementing his baseball legacy.  “King Carl” passed away in 1988, some 54 years after one of the greatest pitching performances in All-Star game history, a performance that put both Carl Hubbell and Meeker, Oklahoma on the map.

Now, again, what does Carl Hubbell have to do with Clay Bennett?  It’s pretty simple.  Bennett is from Oklahoma and Oklahoma loves their heroes.  They love Mickey Mantle, The Oklahoma Sooners, Carl Hubbell and they love Clay Bennett.  That’s right, Clay Bennett is a hero.  He’s a hero because, like Greg Lukenbill in Sacramento, he did the impossible.  He brought an NBA team somewhere that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the grand scheme of David Stern’s big stars, big market world.

There may be a whole host of people who curse the name Clay Bennett in Seattle, but that doesn’t matter to him.  Bennett is a hero where it matters for him – back home in Oklahoma, back home in the 45th largest tv market in the U.S.

So, while so many people are up in arms about what Clay Bennett did to Sonics fans, I want to point out what Clay Bennett did for Thunder fans in Oklahoma.  The NBA needs small markets and Clay Bennett is the perfect man to understand what it is like to have one team to cheer for.  He understands the dynamic of the small market and what it takes to be successful in that market.  Sure, he has a new arena to fill up, but he knows how a small market reveres their heroes.

Rumor has it Clay Bennett was at Arco Arena last week to watch the Kings take on his Oklahoma City Thunder.  That game just so happened to be the final Here We Stay night, which saw nearly 16,000 fans fill an arena for owners that had all but walked away from them weeks earlier.  Bennett got to see a 24 win team give his play-off bound Thunder everything they could handle while screaming fans chanted Here We Stay-Here We Stay. Without knowing that one of the men charged with their fate was in attendance, Sacramento Kings fans put it out there, wore their hearts on their sleeves and shouted to the NBA gods – this is our team.

Kings fans are pulling for some miracle from billionaire Lakers owner Jerry Buss to save their franchise.  Buss has motives and will do what he can to stop the Maloofs from invading his precious media market, but he could never understand a group of die hard fans like that which Clay Bennett witnessed last week.  My money says that Clay Bennett gets it.  He understands the small market appeal and he could feel the beating heart of a fanbase that isn’t ready to give in.  It’s a fanbase that Bennett can appreciate and at the end of the day, he knows that the NBA needs more Sacramento’s and less Anaheim’s.

So thank you, David Stern, for giving us Clay Bennett.  I’m sure there will be plenty of room in the promenade of the new Sacramento Sports and Entertainment facility for a placard that cements his place in Sacramento lore.

Welcome to Sacramento, Home of the Sacramento Kings” (with a special thanks to Clay Bennett.)


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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.