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Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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For Ray Allen, Sonics sale is just "business"

Seattle Times staff reporter

Ray Allen moved quickly to join a group that awaited his arrival at the first tee. The morning had barely begun, yet he had been up for hours preparing for a round at the dazzling Semiahmoo Golf Course in Blaine.

Even in the offseason, the Sonics star is up before 6:30 a.m., though these days he has replaced a basketball with a 9-iron and constantly works to lower his 5 handicap. Normally, summer is a tranquil endeavor when Allen, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Thursday, forgets about the NBA for several weeks.

Last week's sale of the Sonics to Oklahoma City tycoon Clay Bennett and co., however, forced him to contemplate his future with the team and re-examine a relationship with former majority owner Howard Schultz that wasn't as chummy as it appeared to be.

"I haven't had a conversation with Howard in a long time," Allen said in his first interview since the team was sold. "I haven't been informed about anything going on with this whole situation. I spoke with [team president Wally Walker] for a couple of moments after the press conference. Up until then, I didn't know what was going down until it went down. The rest of the players, everybody was in the dark.

"Am I upset by that? No, not really. And I'm not mad or disappointed in Howard or anyone else for that matter. It's a business. From the outside, it may look a certain way, but things aren't always as they appear. As much as we try to make it into a family, you always know that it's a business."

When Schultz bought the Sonics and WNBA's Storm in 2001, the coffee magnate quickly established a reputation as a hands-on, passionate owner and spoke repeatedly about an NBA team being a public trust.

The Brooklyn native would often tell the story of how he became a New York Yankees fan and in 2002, he told the Times: "As a young child, there are certain intrinsic events that become part of your sports DNA. The Dodgers decided to leave Brooklyn, and my father announced to the family that from this day on, we will not watch, listen or mention the Dodger name in this household. And I remember that as if it was right now."

How ironic would those statements be should Bennett make good on a threat to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City if he doesn't receive binding assurances for a new or refurbished arena within 12 months.

"Howard was a fan, probably the biggest fan we had, and that can be good and bad," Allen said. "I don't have a negative word to say about Howard. He was very visible at games, and if anything, I just wish there was more of that behind the scenes."

Ignoring media criticism as well as advice from family members and confidants within the organization, Schultz sat at center court at KeyArena, where he had a wide range of emotional displays from enthusiastic jumping jacks to a listless slouch.

Away from public view, Schultz occasionally attended practices in good times and made fewer appearances when the team suffered through three losing seasons during his five years of ownership.

He said his absences were the result of his position as Starbucks' chief global strategist. However, Allen felt a growing disconnection between the owner and the players.

"I can't really say I ever got close to Howard," said Allen , who has four years and $65 million remaining on the $80 million deal he signed last July. "One of things that we always talked about was being a tight-knit group. The players and everybody, what we did stayed in the locker room, and Howard was a part of that and Wally was a part of that.

"But on top of all of that, we never reached the point where Howard could call me up and display his opinion. I guess he never felt comfortable enough where he could call me up and talk about what was going on on the floor or off the floor."

During his 6 seasons in Milwaukee, Allen built a close relationship with Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl and thought the same might happen in Seattle.

"I'm the type of person, I always express a desire for people to let me know their feelings," Allen said. "I want them to give me their opinion on how I'm playing and what the team could do to play better. Rick [general manager Rick Sund] and I have a great relationship, and I spoke to Wally some.

"Howard was a guy that I never got that rapport with. I tried to keep him in the locker room so everybody knew who our owner was and what he was about. We had a lot of young players on the team, a lot of guys who were just focused on playing basketball. But I don't think they ever knew him and I'm not sure if he was close to many of us."

Schultz wasn't always that way. He developed a close friendship with former Sonic Desmond Mason. He once said: "I loved Desmond. I truly loved Desmond as a son." But then the business of basketball forced the Sonics to trade Mason and Gary Payton for Allen, and Schultz was never the same again.

It was that process and the two years of bitter negotiations with city and state officials on a KeyArena renovation project that soured Schultz on the NBA.

Allen has not spoken with Bennett, but hopes he's financially committed to improving the team.

"We were always in a money-saving mode," Allen said. "We never really competed in free agency to get guys in here so we can get better. Having new ownership, hopefully they bring in a new mind-set of knowing how the NBA operates. I'm not necessarily saying they have to spend money, but knowing what it takes to be successful and attract some free agents, and we put the best possible team together."

Allen hears the cynics, but chooses to believe the Sonics will remain in Seattle. Unlike Rashard Lewis, who is contemplating selling his house in Mercer Island, Allen has no intentions of putting his Issaquah home on the market.

"What people have to realize is this team is still in Seattle," Allen said. "This is still the Seattle SuperSonics. We still need the fans to support this team because it is their team. We can't think that the team is gone because if you do, it will be gone."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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