SEATTLE —SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett could end up paying $75 million to move the NBA franchise to Oklahoma City this year, and he won’t be taking the team’s name or colors with him.
Bennett agreed to settle a lawsuit with the city of Seattle, bringing an end to a contentious relationship that resulted in a trial in which the judge was due to issue her ruling Wednesday.
“We believe this is a fair and appropriate resolution to the litigation involving the Sonics and the City of Seattle,” Bennett said. “We are pleased that the uncertainty is lifted for our players, staff and Oklahoma City fans who can now make plans for the immediate future.”
Bennett announced that the settlement calls for a payment of $45 million immediately, and would include another $30 million paid to Seattle in 2013 unless the state Legislature in Washington authorizes at least $75 million in public funding to renovate KeyArena by the end of 2009 or Seattle obtains an NBA franchise of its own within the next five years.
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 colors available if Seattle gets a replacement franchise.
“I was always amenable, as part of a negotiation process, to reserving the name for Seattle fans. I feel it’s appropriate and we wish Sonics fans and the City good luck in their efforts to develop a modern NBA arena and return pro basketball to Seattle in the future,” Bennett said.
The settlement came six days after the trial concluded, and allows the NBA franchise to head to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season. 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 trial was centered 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 check 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.
During the trial, the Sonics also made much of what they called underhanded tactics designed to drain Bennett financially and keep the team in Seattle.
Bennett and his ownership group, the Oklahoma City-based Professionally Basketball Club LLC, previously offered to pay the city $26.5 million in February to buy out the final two years of the lease. They were rebuffed, and now could end up paying nearly three times that much.