After two years of constant bickering between the Sonics new owner and the fans, the time has finally come. The conclusion of six intense days of trail left Judge Marsha Pechman several days to make her ruling and post it on the federal court’s website. She was interrupted Wednesday night when Professional Basketball Club LLC (aka the SuperSonics) owner Clay Bennett stepped up and announced that a settlement between him and the City of Seattle had been reached.
The settlement means that Bennett and the team are free from the remaining two years of their lease and allowed to move to Oklahoma City. As I stated in Sonics Trial Is Done Son, Clay Bennett can move the team to Oklahoma City, Okla. but the team’s colors and name will stay in Seattle for a future NBA team. The settlement makes Seattle the first NBA franchise to relocate since 2002 when the Hornets left Charlotte for New Orleans. Coincidentally, the Hornets spent two seasons in Oklahoma City after the destruction of New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. The Hornets nomadic movement to OKC for two partial seasons showed NBA officials and most importantly Clay Bennett that the city could sustain and host an NBA franchise.
It took an agreement of $75 million dollars for the City of Seattle to relieve Bennett and the Sonics of the lease he signed when originally purchasing the franchise for $350 million. The City was flirting with the sum of around $10 million from the numbers discussed during the trial. Judge Pechman might have made a ruling for less, but Bennett offered more than 20% of his original proposal so that the move would become official and he would not have to hear the Judge’s ruling.
Part of the reason Bennett made the deal might have to do with the fine print of the contract. Bennett announced later 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.”
This clause could save Bennett some money in the future if the City of Seattle and “Save Our Sonics” really do want an NBA team in the city. Commissioner Stern says that the NBA would support a team in Seattle if KeyArena would get renovated (estimates say it could be anywhere from $90-300 million). Stern also added that the renovations and construction of a franchise would have to be quick. During the season, Stern and the NBA ruled in favor of Bennett and allowed the Sonics to break their lease, which prompted the recent federal court show down. This, and his most recent comments, show Stern’s lack of enthusiasm to build another team in Seattle.
So after 41 graceful years, the Sonics are headed to Oklahoma City with only their name and colors and a glass slipper left behind. The only leftover of the SuperSonics in Seattle are the tickets that loyal season ticket holders paid for in advance. To address that issue, the season ticket holders have filed a class action lawsuit that states they were “tricked” into buying tickets under the belief that the Sonics would be staying in the great state of Washington. I wonder how much that will cost Bennett to get rid of?