No offense to the good people of Oklahoma City, but the SuperSonics, like the Space Needle and the Pike Place Market, are Seattle institutions.

All should stay right where they are on the Puget Sound.

Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett and his group of investors purchased the Sonics for $350 million in 2006, saying at the time that their intentions were to keep the 40-year-old franchise in Washington state. It's been clear since then, however, that the idea behind the purchase all along was to move the Sonics to Oklahoma, which now appears to be an inevitability.

Aubrey McClendon, one of Bennett's investors in the team, in fact, was fined $250,000 by the NBA after admitting in an interview that the franchise was purchased to be moved and with Oklahoma City as the preferred destination.

And now it appears that it's all but a done deal.

"The odds are increasing that (the Sonics) will go to Oklahoma City," said NBA commissioner David Stern during his visit to EnergySolutions Arena on Wednesday night. "But even if I were a betting man, I wouldn't bet on the exact time."

Bennett wants the Sonics out of Seattle as soon as next season. The team has a lease agreement with KeyArena through 2010 and the city wants the franchise to stick to the deal.

Meanwhile, the folks in Oklahoma City got a taste of NBA basketball for two seasons, serving as the primary home of the Hornets in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They did a nice job supporting that transient franchise, too, better than New Orleans ever has.

Oklahoma voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure for $120 million in sales tax revenue to go for improvements to the Ford Center and to build a new, NBA-style practice facility.

"It is a strong sign of support for the NBA and we're gratified by it," said Stern of the Oklahoma vote.

So, barring any last-minute miracles for Seattle, it looks like Oklahoma City will soon be the home of a young, up-and-coming club featuring Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.

And it's a shame. Seattle is more than just a Starbucks on every corner, daily rain showers and the birthplace of grunge rock. It's a vibrant, big, culturally diverse city with a rich NBA basketball history. Unlike the Mariners and the Seahawks, their successful baseball and football brethren, the Sonics actually have a league championship to their credit, having won the 1979 NBA crown.

From "Downtown" Freddie Brown and Jack Sikma to Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, the Sonics have been good for the NBA. Durant and Co. should continue where those Seattle stars of the past have left off.

Besides, how can there be a Northwest Divison in the NBA without Seattle?

A few Seattle-area big wigs, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and wireless magnate John Stanton, are looking to save the NBA in Seattle. They want to buy the team from Bennett and cover half the $300 million cost of upgrading and expanding KeyArena.

But it looks like it will be too little, too late. Bennett wants his team in Oklahoma City and even Bill Gates' right-hand man isn't likely to stop him.

The most likely scenario for the NBA in Seattle, it appears, is for the current team to leave for Oklahoma City and for an expansion franchise to be awarded to the city in a few years.

By then it may be too late, however. The good people of Seattle will have been turned off to the NBA by the current situation and may never return. And who could blame them.

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