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February 16, 2008 4:48 PM

Stern drops a bombshell

Posted by Percy Allen

During his annual state of the NBA address at the All-Star Game, Commissioner David Stern said the city of Seattle rejected a $30 million settlement from the Sonics ownership group that would have paid off the remaining two years of their KeyArena lease and the remaining debt on the renovations that concluded in 1995.

Stern said he expects the Sonics will leave Seattle and questioned why the city would try to keep the team here next season.

The NBA Board of Governors will meet April 17-18 to decide Sonics chairman Clay Bennett's request to move the team to Oklahoma City next season.

UPDATE --- 5:58 P.M.
Here's the transcipts regarding the Sonics from today's press conference.

QUESTION. Are you more or less equally pessimistic about the situation in Seattle than you were this time last year? And is the Union comfortable with discussing relocation next month given the state of the lawsuit in June?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: You know, it's interesting to me, it's apparent to all who are watching that the Sonics are heading out of Seattle. There's not going to be a new arena. There's not going to be a public contribution, and that's everyone's right. I mean that sincerely. So the only question now becomes, is the court going to rule that you can fulfill the terms of the lease by paying money for the remaining two years after this? Or, despite everything, there is some reason to keep them there as the clock winds down.

To try to compromise the issue I have urged and supported the Sonics to make an offer to Seattle that would both pay the remaining two years of the lease after this, and an offer to pay the remaining bond outstanding indebtedness, that will remain even after the team leaves were it to still stay there for two more years after this, which approaches $30 million. All I can tell you is that in response to that request by me, the offer was made, and it was rejected. I think it's bad public policy.

I feel actually badly that the team, when it leaves either now or in two years, is going to leave behind an unpaid debt which the city has. The team's not going to leave it behind, but the city's still going to have a debt on the building. And the Sonics have offered to pay it off. The city says no, and so we'll see. But I don't feel uncomfortable. We know how to observe court orders and we do a pretty good job of that. So if the court says they're not free to just pay and leave, then they won't just pay and leave. But if they are, then they'll be gone and there will be two years of payment, and the city will not have the benefit of the $30 million or so and other things that would be worked on if there were an amicable solution to that.

Q. You seem convinced that they're going to leave?

COMMISSIONER STERN: I see nothing. I don't know why anyone would expect in the absence of what they've been saying all along, which is funding for a new building of some kind and a plan for it that they would be staying. I accept that inevitability at this point. There is no miracle here.

Q. I wanted to get back to Seattle really quick. Do you think or suspect that the reluctance for public financing of any kind up there is directly related to the current ownership, much like in Charlotte there seemed to be resistance with that?

COMMISSIONER STERN: No, absolutely not. They're equal opportunities deniers of aid. Howard Schultz, who was a resident of Seattle, who owned the team previously, who invested time and energy leading lobbying efforts at the city council, at the county level and at the state level, was unsuccessful. Clay Bennett actually spent more money, developed more plans, made more visits, and the answer was no, no, a thousand times no.

Indeed, even recently as I read the newspaper occasionally, the Speaker of the House was heard to say that if the university wanted a new stadium, that was certainly a good reason to consider extending the tax that helped build the baseball and football stadiums, but certainly not for the Sonics. And into that sort of wind, it doesn't make a lot of sense to sail. Thank you very much, everybody.

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