SEATTLE (AP) - Clay Bennett finally found a dollar amount that would sever his contentious relationship with the city of Seattle - $75 million.
As a result, the SuperSonics are headed to Oklahoma City with Bennett leading the way, leaving behind the team name, colors and 41 years of history.
Oklahoma City will have an NBA franchise for the 2008-09 season after a settlement announced Wednesday between the team and the city of Seattle, ending the clashing bond with the city that culminated in a six-day federal trial over terms of the team's KeyArena lease. The judge was scheduled to rule Wednesday afternoon.
“We made it,” Bennett said after stepping to an Oklahoma City podium featuring the NBA logo and the letters OKC. “The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season.”
The settlement calls for Bennett and his Professional Basketball Club LLC to pay as much as $75 million to the city in exchange for the immediate termination of the lease. The team's name and colors will be staying in Seattle.
Bennett said the move would start Thursday and the first focus would be on the SuperSonics' players.
“In a perfect world I would have liked to see Clay Bennett leave, without the team at all,” said Steven Pyeatt, the co-founder of Save Our Sonics.
It's a victory for Bennett, who purchased the Sonics in 2006 from Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz for $350 million, and will take the franchise to his hometown. Bennett faced harsh criticism in Seattle for his efforts in trying to build a new arena as a replacement for KeyArena, and the presumption he wanted to move the franchise all along.
“It was a tough experience for all of us that were involved in it. There was just so much that happened on both sides, so much misinterpreted, miscommunicated and misunderstood that it was difficult,” Bennett said.
Bennett announced 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.
The settlement could become a victory for Seattle as well. In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern reversed his previous stance and said that a renovated KeyArena could be a suitable venue for an NBA franchise in Seattle. But the time is short.
“We understand that city, county, and state officials are currently discussing a plan to substantially rebuild KeyArena for the sum of $300 million,” Stern said in a statement. “If this funding were authorized, we believe KeyArena could properly be renovated into a facility that meets NBA standards relating to revenue generation, fan amenities, team facilities, and the like.”
However, Stern added, “given the lead times associated with any franchise acquisition or relocation and with a construction project as complex as a KeyArena renovation, authorization of the public funding needs to occur by the end of 2009 in order for there to be any chance for the NBA to return to Seattle 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. Bennett said his franchise would create duplicate championship banners and trophies, leaving one set in Seattle and using the second set for undetermined purposes in Oklahoma City.