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Sonics Trial Blog

Seattle Times reporters Percy Allen, Jim Brunner and Danny O'Neil are filing updates from the courthouse throughout the day.

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June 17, 2008 2:54 PM

Bennett says he's committed to putting a winner on the court

Posted by Percy Allen

Sonics chairman Clay Bennett told Sonics attorney Brad Keller that after he bought the team, he felt he could get state lawmakers to approve money for a $500 million arena. He thought his outsider status would give him leverage that the previous owners did not have because they have strong ties to Seattle.

Bennett said he turned down ownership offers ranging from $20-50 million from potential investors.

Keller admitted Exhibit 94, a summary of the funding package for the $500 million Renton arena project. The report says Bennett would pay for the gap between the funding, which would have been $100 million.

Keller showed a clip of Bennett at the state Senate Ways and Means Committee. This clip is longer than the one shown by Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence. In the clip, a state lawmaker asks Bennett what he would commit to the team. Bennett said he committed $350 million, which was the price he paid for the team. He said he's committed to putting a winner on the court and talked about recruiting former Sonics legend Lenny Wilkens as a top executive. Wilkens was released last year.

Bennett said he hired HOK architectural firm to analyze KeyArena.

Bennett said the need for NBA specified facilities -- the size of locker-room and press facilities forced him to look at a new arena rather than renovating KeyArena.

Bennett said he spoke with numerous business and civic leaders to help him gain support from state lawmakers.

Bennett said he narrowed the choices of the new arena to Bellevue and Renton. Bellevue, however, would have been very expensive and it would have been problematic to build parking facilities near an arena. Before eliminating Bellevue, Bennett met with representatives from Microsoft.

Bennett said he made two appearances in Olympia to lobby for state funding toward a new Renton arena. He said he was "getting signals that we were making progress and continued to push."

"We were getting signals that we were having trouble and that's when we began a consumer push from (Sonics) staff," Bennett said. The push was an e-mail blast from Sonics employees asking state lawmakers for their support.

Keller introduced numerous exhibits, which detailed the Sonics ownership group's attempt to lobby state lawmakers.

In an e-mail to Bennett, adviser Jim Kneeland wrote: "We are sending out blast e-mails Monday morning letting opinion leaders supporters know that this is the last week to make a difference and convince the Governor and the legislative leadership. Ryan Blethen came through with a great editorial in this morning Times."

In a Feb. 15, 2007 e-mail, Bennett wrote to Microsoft's Steve Ballmer (who this year lead a group wanting to fund a renovation of KeyArena): "Speaker Chopp blasted us this afternoon. Would appreciate anything you would be willing to do! Thanks."

Responding to Keller's question about how he felt when the Renton plan died, Bennett said: "After that I re-grouped, became a man possessed and expanded the process."

Keller introduced Exhibit 62, the sale agreement between the Professional Basketball Club (PBC) and the Basketball Club of Seattle (BCOS).

The agreement says: "For a period of 12 months after the Closing Date, Buyer shall use good faith best efforts to negotiate an arena lease, purchase use or similar arrangement in the King, Pierce or Snohomish Counties of Washington as a venue for the team's games to be used as a successor venue to KeyArena provided ... use of similar arrangement shall be at the Buyer's sole discretion."

Lawrence objected to Exhibit 62 being admitted as evidence. Pechman overruled.

At 2:47 p.m., Pechman broke for a 15-minute recess.

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