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Settlement sends Sonics to Oklahoma City

The Canadian Press

7/2/2008 9:21:19 PM

SEATTLE - The SuperSonics will move to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season as part of a settlement with the city of Seattle, ending a contentious relationship that resulted in a trial in which the judge was due to issue her ruling Wednesday.
 
The settlement calls for Sonics owner Clay Bennett and the Professional Basketball Club LLC to pay up to US$75 million to the city in exchange for the immediate termination of the KeyArena lease between the NBA team and the city.

The team's name and colours will be staying in Seattle.

"We made it," Bennett said after stepping to an Oklahoma City podium featuring the NBA logo and the letters OKC. "The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season."

Bennett said the move would start Thursday and the first focus would be on the SuperSonics' players.

Bennett announced that the settlement calls for a payment of $45 million immediately, and would include another $30 million paid to Seattle in 2013 if the state Legislature in Washington authorizes at least $75 million in public funding to renovate KeyArena by the end of 2009 and Seattle doesn't obtain an NBA franchise of its own within the next five years.

"We understand that city, county, and state officials are currently discussing a plan to substantially rebuild KeyArena for the sum of $300 million," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "If this funding were authorized, we believe KeyArena could properly be renovated into a facility that meets NBA standards relating to revenue generation, fan amenities, team facilities, and the like."

Bennett said he and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels signed a binding agreement Wednesday, which would be formalized later, that keeps the SuperSonics' name, logo and colours available if Seattle gets a replacement franchise.

"We have 30 million reasons why we have support for a future NBA team," Seattle city attorney Tom Carr said.

In April, the NBA board of governors approved Bennett's application to move the team to Oklahoma City, pending the outcome of the trial between the team and the city. The settlement came six days after the trial concluded.

It doesn't cover a pending lawsuit filed by Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz, who is seeking to regain control of the team he sold to Bennett in 2006 for $350 million. Schultz claims that Bennett didn't follow through on an agreement to negotiate in good faith for a new arena in Seattle for one full year before seeking relocation options.

The trial was centred on the lease agreement between the city and the team that called for the Sonics to play at KeyArena through the 2009-10 season.

Sonics lead attorney Brad Keller contended that Bennett should simply be able to write a cheque to satisfy the final two years of the lease. Keller argued that the "specific performance" clause the city rested its case on should not apply in a garden-variety dispute between tenant and landlord.

Bennett and his ownership group previously offered to pay the city $26.5 million in February to buy out the final two years of the lease. They were rebuffed.