Sonics' ownership's e-mails seemingly contradict message to Stern, Seattle Print
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Thursday, 10 April 2008 14:29
NBA Headline News

 SEATTLE (AP) -E-mail messages between SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett and team co-owners appear to show Bennett misled NBA commissioner David Stern on the group's intentions to move the team to Oklahoma City before all avenues for a new arena in Seattle were closed.
The messages have become part of the team's dispute with the city of Seattle over the two years remaining on its KeyArena lease. Bennett is trying to buy out the lease so he can move the Sonics to his hometown for the 2008-09 season. The city claims the team must occupy the arena through 2009-10. The trial is scheduled to begin June 16.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman is scheduled to hear the trial. She declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the e-mail messages, which the city first released to The Seattle Times and then to The Associated Press and others.
The NBA's board of governors are scheduled to vote next week on Bennett's application to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma.
Pechman ruled in February that as part of the lawsuit's discovery process, the ownership group must give Seattle's lawyers copies of e-mail sent from or to all of its eight board members that could potentially be relevant to the case.
In one of those messages, dated April 17, 2007 - during a one-year period in which Bennett was professing a ``good-faith'' effort to get a new arena built that would keep the Sonics in Seattle - team co-owner Tom Ward wrote to Bennett from Oklahoma City: ``Is there any way to move here for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?''
Bennett replied: ``I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys. the game is getting started!''
Ward answered back: ``That's the spirit!! I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here next year''
Co-owner Aubrey McClendon then wrote: ``me too, thanks, Clay!''
Stern fined McClendon $250,000 last Aug. 23, two weeks after he told an Oklahoma City publication his group didn't buy the Sonics to keep them in Seattle. The comments by McClendon, an Oklahoma City energy tycoon and one of four original partners who bought the Sonics in July 2006 for $350 million, were at odds with Stern's stated hope of keeping the Sonics in Seattle.
Last Aug. 18, days after McClendon's comments were published, Bennett wrote a lengthy e-mail to Stern. It included a fawning section in which Bennett told the commissioner he was ``an extraordinarily gifted executive ... with a rare and unique charisma that brings out the best in everyone you touch ... you are just one of my favorite people on earth and I so cherish our relationship Sonics business aside.''
Bennett then wrote moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City was not yet being discussed within the ownership group.
``I would never breach your trust,'' Bennett e-mailed Stern. ``As absolutely remarkable as it may seem, Aubrey and I have NEVER discussed moving the team to Oklahoma City, nor have I discussed it with ANY other member of our ownership group. I have been passionately committed to our process in Seattle, and have worked my (tail) off.''
Yet on June 5, 2007, Sonics arena consultant Tim Romani e-mailed Bennett and asked that he talk to Oklahoma City manager Jim Couch before Romani was to ``engage in earnest negotiations'' with Couch.
Couch declined comment Thursday, citing the ongoing legal process and his pending deposition next week. A spokesman for Bennett, Dan Mahoney, also declined comment.
The e-mail messages also include Ward writing McClendon on Aug. 2, 2006, weeks after they purchased the Sonics and pledged they would attempt to keep them in Seattle.
``I don't think you and I really want to own a team there either ... ,'' Ward wrote to McClendon, in the context of a partner bailing on the transaction.
When asked about the perception Bennett misled Stern last August that Sonics owners had never discussed moving the team to Oklahoma City, league spokesman Tim Frank declined to comment.
Seattle's motion filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeks to enforce the city's subpoena of the financial records for the NBA and all of its teams. The city recently rejected Bennett's group offering $26.5 million to settle the lease dispute and move the team after this season ends Sunday.
Seattle wants access to documents detailing how the league handles the relocation of teams, early termination of leases and what it wrote was ``the NBA's direct involvement in the owners' attempts to move the Sonics.''
When asked for the league's response to Seattle's subpoena that the NBA open its books, Frank said the league does not comment on pending litigation.
An assistant for Seattle city attorney Tom Carr said Carr was traveling Thursday and would not comment.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York and AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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