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Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Sonics not likely to play in Seattle beyond 2008 season

Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Seattle SuperSonics majority owner Clay Bennett said Tuesday that the NBA team likely will not play in Seattle beyond the 2007-08 season.

Bennett said Gov. Chris Gregoire won't call lawmakers into special session so the team can continue to push for taxpayer money for a new $500 million arena. And he said the Sonics will honor their KeyArena lease that runs through 2010 -- but most likely only through "a legal exercise."

"That may or may not mean the team will play there," Bennett said, knowing Seattle's NBA team for the last 40 years is obligated to stay in the city only for one more season.

"I'm not sure it makes sense to play there if relocation [is imminent]."

Bennett, whose investor group bought the team last year from a local group headed by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, is a prominent Oklahoma City businessman, and the sale prompted widespread fear among Sonics fans that the team would be moved to Oklahoma. Bennett promised to keep the team in the Seattle area if a deal could be struck for a new arena.

On Monday, legislative leaders decided not to consider the plan for a new arena in suburban Renton during the regular session, which is due to end by Sunday, saying it lacks enough support to pass.

Bennett said he had no hope that Gregoire would call lawmakers back.

"I have asked her opinion of that and she said the special session is not [going to] happen," Bennett said.

When asked by The Associated Press on Tuesday morning about a special session, Gregoire replied: "No discussion about that." Her spokeswoman later disputed Bennett's account of his conversation with Gregoire.

"The governor has no recollection of any mention of a special session during her phone call with Clay Bennett," said Holly Armstrong, Gregoire's spokeswoman.

Bennett also said he would not bring the arena plan before lawmakers when the next regular session begins in January because he will by then be exploring his contractual right to move the Sonics and the WNBA's Storm. That right, from his $350 million purchase of the teams last summer, takes effect after Oct. 31.

The Sonics did not file a relocation application with the NBA before a March 1 deadline, so they are obligated to play in Seattle for one more season.

When asked about lawmakers' claims Monday night that the proposal to use $278 million in King County tax revenues toward a new arena did not have enough support in the Legislature, Bennett scoffed and said, "That sounds like politics to me."