Sonics Suit Turns Poisonous
As the U.S. District Court battle over the SuperSonics basketball franchise winds to a close in Seattle, lawyers for Sonics owner Clay Bennett have alleged that the city wasn’t acting in good faith when it filed suit to keep the team from heading to Oklahoma City.
Attorney Brad Keller unveiled e-mail correspondence between former Sonics president Wally Walker, former Sen. Slade Gorton, his campaign manager Mike McGavick and Seattle developer Matt Griffin that outlined a plan to force Bennett to sell the team, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
One e-mail Gorton wrote to Griffin, Walker and McGavick reportedly explained that "Bennett will sell at a reasonable price only if pressured by the NBA or if he faces an expensive and unpleasant legal future."
The men also created a presentation aiming to "separate the NBA from the Oklahomans" titled "The Sonics Challenge: Why a Poisoned Well Provides a Unique Opportunity," which Gorton reportedly showed to Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer during a meeting at Walker’s home, the paper said.
Attorneys for Seattle were quick to cut any connections between the city and the actions taken by the group of men.
"I think if you look at the document they point to so often, you’ll see that it clearly does not involve the city," attorney Paul Lawrence said. "It anticipates [a city role] later on in an effort to keep the Sonics in Seattle, but there’s nothing that suggests the plan involves the city at its inception. Of course, this all happened after Clay Bennett announced very clearly his intent to leave Seattle for Oklahoma City."
The city has attempted to prove Bennett was in violation of a "good faith" agreement made with former owner Howard Schultz that allegedly required Bennett to find a new arena to keep the team in the region.
However, Bennett said during testimony that the thought of moving the team had only come after exhausting all the alternatives, the Seattle Times reported, because ticket sales, TV ratings, ad revenue and suite revenue have been on the decline.
"We were out of options in this region," he said. "No facility, no prospects for a facility, certainly what had unfortunately become an acrimonious relationship with leadership."
Bennett attorney Keller also pointed out that the "good faith" language referred to building a "successor venue" for the city’s KeyArena, which never happened, according to the Times.
Closing arguments in the case are expected to wrap June 26th.