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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 12:08 PM

The "man possessed" says he never considered KeyArena

Posted by Percy Allen

Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence submitted as evidence a report from a consultant who told Bennett that KeyArena was viable. The report states: "It's not that Key is not a functional building. It is that Key can never be the entertainment venue that the entire Seattle area really deserves."

Lawrence aired a video clip of Bennett testifying before the state Senate Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 13, 2007 in which Bennett said KeyArena is viable for a few years, but is not viable long term.

At 10:56 a.m., Lawrence began asking about the benefits other cities receive from NBA teams.

Lawrence said the Sonics and Storm Foundation and its players donate more than $1 million per year to the region.

Bennett agreed there would be a loss to the Seattle region if the Sonics were to move. Bennett agreed the state would lose taxes generated from the team's payroll and from ticket buyers if the team were to move. Bennett said there are 125 Sonics employees and those jobs would be lost if the team were to move.

Bennett said there are economic benefits for the city if the Sonics were to stay.

At 11:06 a.m., Sonics attorney Brad Keller objected to Lawrence's attempt to question Bennett about how profitable the team would be in Oklahoma City. Lawrence said he plans to present evidence that the Sonics generate $180 million annually for the Seattle area. Judge Marsha Pechman questioned the relevance.

Lawrence was able to get admitted as evidence a Sonics Relocation Proposal that was presented to the Oklahoma Legislature. In the report, Bennett said the team would generate $171 million annually for Oklahoma City.

At 11:15 a.m., Lawrence asked about other NBA leases. Bennett said he knows other leases provide an early termination provision and specifically made reference to the lease he signed with Oklahoma City.

Lawrence asked about the efforts to find a successor venue to KeyArena.

At 11:21 a.m., Lawrence admitted exhibit 60, an e-mail exchange among owners Bennett, Tom Ward and Aubrey McClendon. In the e-mail, Bennett said he had no problem making a strong, good-faith effort to former owner Howard Schultz. Bennett wrote: "If we are successful we are probably looking at a sweet flip and with the strength of our group I think we would still be in good shape for something in OKC."

Bennett admitted he never considered a renovated KeyArena as a successor venue. He said he did not concur with Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to remodel the building.

Lawrence said a KeyArena renovation was going to cost $200 million. Bennett said Renton and Bellevue were chosen as possible sites for a new $500 million arena from a list of 30 possible sites.

Lawrence said the $500 million arena would have been the most expensive arena in the NBA. Bennett admitted that he did not have legislation, a detailed arena plan ready to submit by Dec. 30, 2006 to the state Legislature. Bennett admitted that he missed the Feb. 1, 2007 deadline and was given an extension.

Lawrence asked Bennett if he considered extending his Oct. 31, 2007 deadline to move the Sonics since the team missed deadlines with the Legislature. Bennett said no.

Bennett talked of his hiring of political consultant Jim Kneeland. Kneeland told Bennett he should pay for a considerable portion of the $500 million arena, and Bennett said they should not discuss the Professional Basketball Club's financial commitment.

In an e-mail to his lobbyist, Bennett said his contribution to the project would be "negligible."
Bennett wrote: "I am confounded by the focus on our contribution. At the end of the day, it will be neglible and has nothing to do with the deal or the reality of the imminent need for the facility in the marketplace."

Bennett, however, said his group was willing to pay $100 million toward the project. Lawrence asked him repeatedly if he had made that figure known to anyone and Bennett said he did. Lawrence kept asking similar questions until Keller objected and Pechman sustained.

Lawrence tried to ask Bennett about the financial contributions made by the Seahawks and Mariners to their stadiums, but Keller objected and Pechman sustained.

At 11:45 a.m., Lawrence admitted exhibit 115, a series of e-mails. Responding to a Seattle Times story, Bennett wrote "there's little hope" the team will remain in Seattle. Ward wrote: "Is there any way to move here next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?

Bennett wrote: "I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys. The game is getting started."

Bennett said he meant he was possessed to keep the team in Seattle. Lawrence hammered away at this point. Lawrence pointed to the responses from Ward and McClendon who said they wanted to watch basketball games in Oklahoma City.

Lawrence asked: "Did you respond back and say 'I meant I want to keep the team in Seattle?'" Bennett said: "I did not."

Lawrence submitted an e-mail between Bennett and NBA executive Joel Litvin in which Bennett asked if there was any way he could move the team to Oklahoma City next season. Said Lawrence: "So the man possessed to keep the team in Seattle is asking how he can move the team to Oklahoma City."

Lawrence submitted an e-mail from McClendon to Bennett which said: "Where will be next year sir?" Bennett replied in the email that he was working hard.

Lawrence asked: "Did you tell Aubrey, 'no, no I'm working hard to stay in Seattle.'" Bennett said: "I did not."

Bennett said he contacted the Ford Center in Oklahoma City to reserve dates for the 2008-09 season.

Bennett initially met with Sonics attorney Brad Keller on April 25, 2007 about possible litigation.

At 10:57, Lawrence changed his line of questioning. He asked about Bennett's meeting with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and his relationship with the mayor's office. The two sides did not speak between Aug. 8, 2006 and July 2007.

At noon, Pechman suspended the testimony for lunch. Bennett has been on the stand for 2 hours, 8 minutes.

The trial will resume at 1:30 p.m.

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