BY SPNW Staff 01:52PM 03/02/2016

Key figure in Sonics’ move dies in car crash

Thunder owner Aubrey McClendon, who helped engineer the 2008 relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City, died in a fiery car crash early Wednesday.

Aubrey McClendon helped move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. / Wiki Commons

Aubrey McClendon, who along with Clay Bennett moved the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, died in a fiery automobile crash Wednesday, one day after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted him for violating anti-trust laws by colluding to rig bids for oil and gas acreage while he ran the Chesapeake Energy Co. that he co-founded.

Oklahoma City police said they were investigating the cause of the crash that occurred while McClendon was driving his 2013 Chevy Tahoe. Police said McClendon drove straight into a concrete bridge embankment “without leaving skid marks,” and that the vehicle was so badly burned after it burst into flames that they were unable to tell if McClendon was wearing his seat belt. McClendon was 56.

“He pretty much drove straight into a wall,” police said of McClendon, described by Forbes as “one of the greatest oil and gas wildcatters of his generation.”

McClendon was a 20 percent owner of Professional Basketball Club LLC, which purchased the Sonics and Seattle Storm from Howard Schultz in 2006. Although Bennett and McClendon initially vowed to keep the Sonics in Seattle, they moved the franchise to Oklahoma City prior to the 2008-09 season when they failed to convince politicians and taxpayers to fund a new arena.

On Aug. 13, 2007, while Sonics fans still held out hope that they could retain the team, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern fined McClendon $250,000 for telling an Oklahoma City newspaper, “We didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle. It was always our hope to bring the team to Oklahoma City.”

After the City of Seattle sued Professional Basketball Club LLC to stop the relocation, a series of e-mails written by Bennett confirmed that relocation was always the primary agenda of Bennett’s and McClendon.

The Sonics had been a Seattle sports fixture for 41 years prior to departing for Oklahoma City.

DOJ wrote in a statement Tuesday that McClendon, 56, was suspected of orchestrating a scheme between two large energy companies, which are not named in the indictment, from December 2007 to March 2012. The companies would decide ahead of time who would win bids, with the winner then allocating an interest in the leases to the other company, according to the statement.

In a statement released Tuesday after his indictment, McClendon denied violating antitrust laws.

“The charge that has been filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented,” McClendon said. “Anyone who knows me, my business record and the industry in which I have worked for 35 years, knows that I could not be guilty of violating any antitrust laws. All my life I have worked to create jobs in Oklahoma, grow its economy, and to provide abundant and affordable energy to all Americans. I am proud of my track record in this industry, and I will fight to prove my innocence and to clear my name.”


  • jafabian

    Sad news to hear. Despite his legal troubles this is not the way to solve them. Obviously he sank into a deep depression he couldn’t get out of. Thoughts and prayers to his family at this time.

    • Will

      Obviously? The only real “obvious” is, he had just been indicted and soon after he drove into a wall and died. “Deep depression” is speculation, unless you’re his doctor. And, “not the way to solve them (troubles)” is a value judgement.

      • art thiel

        We really can’t make the call on suicide. Could have had a heart attack or stroke at the wheel.

        • Jamo57

          I wonder if the medical examiner will ever be able to make that determination. The crash scene sounded pretty horrific.

          • art thiel

            The scene won’t provide much. It’s whether he left any notes or other evidence with others.

  • Kirkland

    Cannot condone what he did with the Sonics, and what he’s alleged to have done with Chesapeake, but his family and loved ones are hurting badly right now. Think of them right now.

    • art thiel

      There are victims here more aggrieved than Sonics fans.

  • MrPrimeMinister

    What happens to his piece of the thunder?

    • art thiel

      Likely goes to his heirs, unless his estate created first-refusal rights among his team partners.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        Since he stole them, thought it might revert back to Seattle.

  • James Jackson

    I don’t root for anyone to do something like that, but the guy just seemed slimy even outside of what he did with the Sonics, hard for me to really feel for him.

    • Tian Biao

      I also find it hard to feel sorry for him. The man slammed his car into a
      concrete wall the day after the indictment, which said he did illegal deals for five years. His unwillingness to stand up and answer the charges certainly makes him look guilty, and the Sonics deal seemed slippery as well. There are a lot good people in the world, who earn and deserve compassion and sympathy for a lot of reasons, but he isn’t one of them.

    • art thiel

      His deeds in Seattle will never be forgiven.

      • notaboomer

        mcclendon didn’t do anything wrong re sonics except shoot off his mouth. it was schultz. avoid starbucks at all costs like kenny mayne does.

        • Tian Biao

          You are correct: Schultz is the chief culprit. I have not had a Starbucks since the deed was done, and have urged friends and family to follow suit.

  • Sammy Joe Kelly

    They prob have a lot of emails as evidence

  • Jamo57

    I think I read somewhere yesterday that Chesapeake Energy was noteworthy and made it’s mark by pioneering the technology and processes that release natural gas from shale, opening up new sources of energy. Is that a clinical way of saying they invented fracking?

    In any event, sometimes I wonder if these captains of industry, politicians, and their ilk who seek wealth, power, and prestige without regard to a “bigger picture”, ethics, or just basic lawfulness have a void within they are trying to fill that can’t be filled?

    News like this makes me ponder that question even more.

    Peace to McClendon family, the peace Aubrey may have never had.

    • art thiel

      He was a king of fracking, which ironically became so successful that it glutted the domestic market and lowered the price so that the U.S. is no longer an importer, but an exporter, although natural gas is usually too expensive to export. His business was done in by his own hand, As was he.

  • Blair Teddy

    I’ll throw stones. To hell with him and the rest of his pals. The man was a criminal and died a coward. I will live a long life knowing I’ll never be both.

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    • art thiel

      The contempt for his deeds in Seattle runs deep, deservedly. I don’t think his wife and kids deserved this outcome.

      • 1coolguy

        Well said!

  • Jeff Shope

    sounds like guilt got him

  • Comrade Suge

    There seems to be a lot of outpouring of grief in Oklahoma for this man. However, he was screwing the taxpayers out of money with his crimes (so this outpouring of grief seems odd). He may have declared his innocence but his actions suggest differently.

    • art thiel

      He bought acceptance by donating millions to charity and making civic investments. It’s a trick as old as civilization.

  • Comrade Suge

    His business dealings were criminal when it came to his company but as far as the Soncs go, I honestly don’t see what was so slimy about it. We didn’t want a team here (remember that 2007 vote about taxpayer dollars and stadiums) if that meant building a new stadium. OKC wanted a team and apparently our pal Schultz was happy to sell to a group that wanted to bring a team to OKC. Sure they pretended to want to stay here but that was all contractual language since they had to at least appear to make a good-faith effort to stay here.

    • art thiel

      You’re right, it wasn’t criminal. It was deceitful and duplicitous, but not illegal. You’re also right in that the single most significant factor in the Sonics departure, once for sale, was the passage of I-91 that Seattle voters approved with a 72 percent plurality. Schultz was a scoundrel for quitting early on the Key and selling.

      • jafabian

        I’d throw Nickels under that bus as well. Wally recommended that he dig in his heels saying the OKC group wouldn’t last long if the team continued to lose money during the 3 years remaining on the Key Arena lease. Nickles instead caved saying he wanted to stay in David Stern’s good graces. Sh’yeah, right.

  • woofer

    I guess my uncharitable view is that any team owned by Howard Schultz and run by Wally Walker was eventually going to get fleeced by somebody. So it just happened to be two oil patch cowboys, Bennett and McClendon. Chesapeake was a wildly ambitious player in trying to lock up gas shale fracking assets and was leveraged to an extent that could only work out in a skyrocketing market. With the collapse of energy prices he was going to go down in flames one way or another. Looks like he opted for a quick exit. It was probably one of his better moves.

    • Comrade Suge

      So basically it was a Ponzi scheme.

  • MacPhisto92

    He drove straight into a concrete bridge embankment without leaving skid marks?? That sounds like a ‘man possessed’!