Seattle SuperSonics team owners actively discussed moving the team to Oklahoma City shortly after purchasing the franchise in 2006, contrary to statements made by the owners and Oklahoma City officials, according to a court document filed in New York federal court.
The city of Seattle is suing the ownership team, Professional Basketball Club LLC, to keep the team in Seattle through the lease of the Sonics' contract with the city through 2010. Owners, led by Clay Bennett, filed papers with the National Basketball Association to move the team to Oklahoma City later this year, and currently are trying to get out of the Seattle lease.
As first reported by The Seattle Times, the owners, NBA and Oklahoma City officials were already in talks about a possible move within just a few months of the team's sale. Seattle's attorneys obtained e-mail messages between team owners and the NBA. The following exchange took place, according to the court document, in April 2007.
"Is there any way to move here (Oklahoma City) for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?" wrote Sonics co-owner Tom Ward to fellow owners Bennett and Aubrey McClendon.
"I am a man possessed," Bennett responded. "Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started."
"That's the spirit!!" Ward sent back. "I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here (in Oklahoma City) next year."
"Me too, thanks Clay!" wrote McClendon.
At that time, the owners were publicly saying they were still working with Seattle to try and keep the team there.
'USE THE SAME TALKING POINTS'
This e-mail was sent from consultant Brent Gooden, owner of The Gooden Group, to the owners on Jan. 4, 2007:
"Will interview Mayor Cornett. We briefed the Mayor last night on the anticipated questions, which could likely include the prospect of the Sonics moving to OKC"¦We asked the Mayor to use the same talking points he did with the reporter from Sports Illustrated who asked similar questions."
In June 2007, another PBC consultant, Tim Romani, e-mailed Bennett about talking with Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch about negotiations:
"Our approach will be to ask for the world. "¦We will start with a deal that is better than what the Hornets have. We will address cost items such as the NBA relocation fee, relocation expenses, practice facility and Ford Center improvements."
Spokesperson Dan Mahoney said PBC is not commenting at this time. For more details, read next week's Oklahoma Gazette. "Scott Cooper