OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -Former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz said he was warned by NBA commissioner David Stern that it would be ``very expensive'' to pursue a lawsuit seeking to return the team to Seattle from Oklahoma City.
Schultz made the claim in a declaration filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Schultz has sued to try to reverse his sale of the franchise to Clay Bennett, claiming the Oklahoma City businessman failed to follow through on a promise to negotiate in good faith to keep the team in Seattle.
On July 2, Bennett's ownership group and city of Seattle officials announced a settlement in another lawsuit, allowing the team to move immediately to Oklahoma City, where it will play during the upcoming season. That settlement did not cover Schultz's lawsuit.
Six days later, the NBA filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman - who is presiding over the Schultz case - to allow the league to intervene. The NBA claimed the lawsuit would interfere with the stable operation of the franchise.
Schultz said in his declaration that when he learned on June 23 of the potential settlement between the city of Seattle and the franchise, he told his lawyers that he could not support that settlement ``because my primary objective was to secure an NBA team in Seattle, and that objective was not adequately insured by that settlement.''
Schultz said Stern tried to contact him on July 24. He said it was the first contact he'd had with Stern since Schultz, the chairman and president of Starbucks Coffee Co., filed his lawsuit in April.
A day later, Schultz said the commissioner ``told me he wanted 'to hear it from the horse's mouth' why I was not joining in the city's settlement and dismissing my lawsuit.''
Schultz said Stern told him ``that if I did not join in the settlement ... I should realize that it will become very expensive for me and my partners, and he implied that I should reconsider my position.''
Schultz said he then told Stern the settlement did not contain strong enough assurances about the NBA locating a team in Seattle and that Stern told him ``the NBA would offer no further assurances in that regard.''
As part of the settlement, the team was to pay the city $45 million immediately. The team also will pay another $30 million to Seattle in 2013 if the Washington state legislature 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 five years.
Asked about Schultz's recollection of their conversation, Stern said in a statement to The Oklahoman that ``we had a friendly conversation at the close of which we both had stated our positions. There were no threats expressed or implied.''
Schultz owned the team from 2001 to July 2006, when he sold it along with the WNBA's Storm to Bennett for $350 million. The NBA claimed in its motion to intervene that the transfer of the franchise to a court-appointed receiver and a subsequent transfer back to Schultz would both be prohibited by the league's constitution.
The league also claimed in the motion that if a court-appointed receiver were to be appointed, the NBA's constitution allows for the league's owners to put that team ``under the management and control'' of Stern.
Schultz also has asked Pechman to split his lawsuit into two phases, one for liability and the other to determine a remedy. In a joint status report filed Friday by attorneys for both sides, the team said it will oppose that request.
Bennett has called Schultz's lawsuit ``baseless'' and without merit.
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