Sports

Sonics hit the Lotto and Cho knew first

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Tuesday might go down as one of the biggest days in the long and fairly rich tradition of the Seattle SuperSonics.

It was when Lady Luck smiled on the Sonics during a very tumultuous time in the history of the franchise. Seattle defied the odds and were awarded with the second pick in this year’s NBA draft, which will be held June 28 in New York City. The Sonics had only an 18.5 percent chance of getting one of the top two picks in the lottery, which will be Ohio State’s Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant.

Oden is expected to be the first overall pick by the Portland Trailblazers, leaving Durant in the Sonics’ lap. Durant was the consensus college player of the year after averaging 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Longhorns as a freshman.

And nobody was more excited than Decatur High School graduate Rich Cho. The 41-year-old assistant general manager with the Sonics was actually the first person in the world to know Seattle would be picking second in next month’s draft.

“It’s been great,” Cho said on KJR radio Wednesday afternoon. “There is a lot of excitement. It was just a great night.”

Cho was the Sonics’ lone representative at the actual Draft Lottery, when the ping pong balls were actually pulled out of a machine and the draft order was finalized. The real lottery was held about an hour and a half before ESPN televised the event.

“I was in a back room,” Cho said. “They had us sequestered with lawyers and security. They took all our cell phones, pagers and Blackberrys. If you had to use the restroom, they would escort you there. They didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag.”

The NBA loaded the back room in Secaucus, N.J. with plenty of food and drinks for the representatives from all 14 teams in the draft lottery.

“It was quite a spread,” Cho said.

The Sonics, who posted the fifth-worst record in the NBA this season (31-51). They leapfrogged the Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks to get their highest selection since taking Gary Payton with the second pick in 1990.

“I am pretty excited about it,” said Sonics president Lenny Wilkens. “I think that it is great to finish in the top two. I think it is great for the franchise, for the ownership, for the fans. I think it is something positive and something to go forward with.”

But even with the prospect of selecting Durant, the cloud of possible relocation of the franchise is still a distinct possibility. Sonics owner Clayton Bennett recently visited Kansas City and met with civic leaders to discuss moving the Soincs to Missouri.

Bennett has been stymied in efforts to build a proposed $500 million arena in Renton. The state Legislature adjourned in April without taking action on a proposal that would provide $300 million in taxes for the project, and it’s highly unlikely Gov. Chris Gregoire would call a special session to revisit the plan.

The Sonics are also currently without a general manager or head coach, adding to the uncertainty of the franchise.

But, for now, Cho and the rest of the Sonics’ organization and fans are giddy with the prospect of Durant in a Seattle uniform.

“If Oden goes No. 1, we are going to take Kevin Durant,” Cho said. “I don’t want my house burned down. Of course we’re taking him. Durant is a franchise player and you win in this league with your stars. He’s got a ton of talent.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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