SEATTLE — Eleven years after the SuperSonics left Seattle, former Starbucks CEO and team owner Howard Schultz admitted in an exclusive interview with KING 5 that selling the team was a mistake, and he apologized for how he handled the situation.
“It was a mistake, I apologize for it, and I’m sorry,” Schultz said.
Schultz was in Seattle on Thursday to promote his new book, From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America. His book tour also comes as Schultz is “seriously thinking” about a run for president in 2020 as an independent.
Schultz sold the team to an Oklahoma-based ownership group in 2006 after failing to secure a new arena for the team. He admitted he “naively” thought the group would keep the team in Seattle, although many knew what was coming after the team was sold.
"I think the lesson I've learned with regard to the Sonics situation is when you have power and responsibility you need to show restraint," Schultz said.
Within a year after the team left, Schultz said he realized he had made a mistake.
I started seeing kids with Sonics jerseys on, and it made me realize the deep wounds of taking a sports team away from young fans,” Schultz said.
Over a decade after the team’s exodus, many fans still feel snubbed, as evidenced by a group that plans to protest outside Schultz’ book event Thursday night. Schultz said he now understands the deep commitment Sonics fans felt for their NBA team, saying it is the same feeling he has for the Yankees, which he grew up watching with his dad.
“I understand if people can't get over it,” Schultz said. “I’m doing everything I can to talk about it openly and honestly, and I apologize.”
TIME magazine released a piece this week suggesting his sale of the Sonics is indicative of how he may govern. Schultz does not agree.
“I don’t because if you look at the fact that I’ve managed a public company for the last 26 years and in doing so, Starbucks built about 30,000 stores in about 77 countries and employed almost 400,000 people and built what Fortune magazine just named the 5th most admired company in the world,” Schultz said. “I’ve had a long track record of almost 30 years as a public CEO, bringing people together, solving complex problems, building a very diverse organization. I’m not perfect, Starbucks isn’t perfect, I’m human, I made a mistake. I’ve learned from that mistake, but what we’re talking about right now is the future of the country and America’s standing in the world.”
Asked if he would ever invest in an effort to bring the NBA back to the city, he said he would do what is asked of him.
“I would do whatever was asked of me to bring basketball back to Seattle," Schultz said. "No one has solicited my opinion as you might imagine, but I think it’d be wonderful for the city of Seattle, and I’m confident especially given the enthusiasm on the Sounders and the new level of issues in terms of how embracing the city government has been about the hockey team, that there will be a day, hopefully sooner than later, when a basketball team from the NBA comes back."