SEATTLE (AP) -A deal is a deal, and the SuperSonics should stay.
That was the message from city of Seattle lawyers as a federal trial began Monday to determine whether the NBA franchise will be forced to stay at KeyArena until its lease expires in 2010.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett has gained the league's approval to move the team to his hometown of Oklahoma City and is hoping to pay the city no more than $10 million in lost rent for the next two seasons.
But in his opening statement Monday, Seattle lawyer Paul Lawrence said the city only agreed to renovate the old Seattle Coliseum - now KeyArena - at a cost of more than $80 million in the mid-1990s because the team agreed to stay until 2010. He told U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman the city has every right to hold the Sonics to that bargain.
Furthermore, he said, Bennett knew full well that the Sonics had been losing money at KeyArena and assumed that risk when his group bought the team for $350 million in 2006.
``These are all sophisticated businessmen who know what it means to sign and assume a contract,'' Lawrence said. ``They can afford the losses they knew were coming.''
The opening presentation included photos of Sonics banners hanging from the rafters and excerpts from e-mails in which Bennett and other owners discussed their eagerness to move the team soon after buying it.
Forcing the Sonics to honor the lease would give the city two additional years to potentially reach a deal for a new arena, Lawrence said. He noted the NBA's approval to move the team is only good for one year.
``A lot can happen in two years,'' he said.
Sonics attorney Brad Keller began his opening statement by saying there were two key tenets to the Sonics lease: One, that they would play their home games at KeyArena for 15 years; and two, that the city would provide an ``economically feasible'' venue. Nowadays, KeyArena is ``terrible,'' economically and physically, compared to other arenas in the league, he said.
The 1994 deal that was supposed to be a win-win for the city and the team has become a lose-lose, he said. Forcing the team to stay would be like forcing an estranged husband and wife to share the same roof, he said.
``Like many relationships do, this relationship broke down,'' Keller said.
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