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Monday, January 7, 2008
Reports: Storm sold to local ownership group

Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The WNBA has scheduled a news conference amid reports that the Seattle Storm has been sold to a local ownership group and will remain in Seattle.

The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, both citing unidentified sources, reported Monday night that team owner Clay Bennett had sold the WNBA franchise to a local group. Bennett's group has owned both the Storm and the NBA SuperSonics and has filed for relocation with the NBA to move the Sonics from Seattle to Bennett's hometown of Oklahoma City.

Dan Mahoney, spokesman for the organization, would only confirm Monday night that the announcement scheduled Tuesday was not related to the Storm's current search for a new head coach.

When Bennett took ownership in July 2006, he said he had no intention of splitting the franchises. But last September, he made his first statements that he might be willing to split the two teams, or look into keeping the Storm in Seattle, even if the Sonics were to move. At that time he said the Storm would play the 2008 season in Seattle, but made no commitments beyond that.

The Storm would join a handful of WNBA teams that are independently owned, including Chicago, Connecticut, Los Angeles and Washington, among others.

The Seattle team has been very successful in its eight years in existence, highlighted by its 2004 WNBA title, the first professional sports title in the city since the 1979 SuperSonics won the NBA championship.

The team has averaged more than 7,000 fans per game each season and reached the playoffs the last three years. But each of those seasons ended with first-round playoff losses, and in late November, head coach and director of player personnel Anne Donovan abruptly resigned.

Seattle has only four players under contract for the 2008 season, including league MVP Lauren Jackson. All-Star Sue Bird is a free agent, but has continually expressed her intention of returning to Seattle if the team stayed.