Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels arrives at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Seattle for the city's trial against the team Monday, June 16, 2008.
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.
SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett is trying to move the team — Seattle's oldest professional sports franchise — to his hometown of Oklahoma City, two years before the lease expires. Bennett, who sat expressionless at the defense table, is hoping to pay Seattle no more than $10 million in lost rent for the next two seasons.
In his opening statement, Seattle lawyer Paul Lawrence said the city only agreed in the mid-1990s to spend $84 million to renovate the old Seattle Coliseum — now KeyArena — 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, and asked her to force them to stay.
Bennett knew full well the Sonics had been losing money at KeyArena and assumed that risk when his group bought the team for $350 million in 2006, Lawrence said.
"These are all sophisticated businessmen who know what it means to sign and assume a contract," he 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. Lawrence said the economic, cultural and charitable benefits the Sonics bring to Seattle are unique, hard to quantify and not something that can be simply paid off.
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