By Ben Fenwick and Jessica DiNapoli
OKLAHOMA CITY/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The judge overseeing Aubrey McClendon's estate approved a land deal on Friday that will pay off one of the late energy magnate's major creditors, paving the way for the sale of his stake in professional basketball team the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In probate court in Oklahoma City, Judge Richard Kirby approved Jones Energy Inc's plan to purchase 18,000 acres of oil and gas leasehold interests for $136.5 million from the estate. The proceeds from the sale will repay private equity firm Oaktree Capital Group LLC, to whom McClendon owes $85 million, court records show.
Once the sale closes, Oaktree will release its claim on the cash distributions McClendon was entitled to receive from his approximately 20 percent stake in the Thunder.
That frees up the stake in the team to potentially be sold to the late wildcatter's other creditors, many of whom view it as the crown jewel in the estate.
Lenders to McClendon have claimed in court that the oilman, who co-founded Chesapeake Energy Corp, left behind more debt than his assets could repay as oil prices cratered, an assertion that McClendon's attorneys have disputed.
Oaktree declined to comment. Spokespeople for the McClendon estate did not immediately return requests for comment.
There have not yet been any decisions made on whether the estate will sell McClendon's stake in the Thunder, according to a person familiar with the matter.
McClendon had used his interest in the Thunder to personally guarantee the loan from Oaktree, according to a another person familiar with the matter. His death in March in a car crash caused a default in the loan, according to a filing with the court.
McClendon's estate is the majority owner of the holding company for Scoop Energy Company LLC, which owns the 18,000 acres of oil and gas leasehold interests Jones agreed to purchase. The land is in an oil and gas development basin in south central Oklahoma known as the Stack/Scoop, according to court filings.
There were 32 potential bidders who expressed interest in the land and signed confidentiality agreements to receive more detailed information on it, the filing states.
Jones focuses its operations on the Anadarko and Arkoma basins in Texas and Oklahoma.
(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)