The Sonics-City of Seattle settlement announced yesterday is what might have been expected had the parties not settled and U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman made a likely ruling that this landlord-tenant dispute should be settled monetarily. (See my Monday article).
Both sides eliminated risk, though, by settling before her ruling. The Sonics, of course, cleared out promptly for Oklahoma City. The press-conference description of the settlement by Mayor Greg Nickels, with City Council members serving as props, was a comic classic.
The city, Nickels explained — after first commending the attorneys who argued the case so ineptly — was getting $45 million right now, which it intended to plow back into KeyArena, and maybe $30 million later. The $30 million, if you read the fine print of the settlement, is unlikely to be paid. The city will only qualify if the Legislature authorizes new taxing authority in 2009 to refurbish the Key according to constantly expanding National Basketball Association standards.
Moreover, Nickels explained, the NBA promised to alert the city to any expansion or franchise-relocation possibilities. Seattle would hold onto the Sonics name, records, memorabilia, and so on.
The NBA promise, of course, is empty nonsense. If expansion is contemplated, or a franchise goes on the market, prospective Seattle owners will not need Commissioner David Stern to so inform them. They will find out the same way the Oklahoma City purchasers found out that former owner Howard Schultz wanted to take his big capital gains and clear out. As for the Sonics name and memorabilia: Why on earth would the Okies want them?
So there you have the core of the settlement: $45 million from the Sonics to buy out of their two-year lease at the Key. Earlier, they had stated that it would cost them $60 million to remain in Seattle for the two years.
Attorneys experienced in such cases told us, at the beginning, that no judge was likely to do anything but tell the parties to reach a monetary settlement or, alternatively, to preside over one.
Why, then, did the City of Seattle decide to bring the suit? Was it Nickels' idea, or was it the idea of former Sen. Slade Gorton? He and his law firm got seven-figure compensation from taxpayers for handling the case.
Whatever the reasoning, and whatever the origin of the idea, the whole matter ended with the Sonics gone, the city getting less than the Sonics had said staying would cost them, and local politicos treating as a big deal NBA assurances which amount to nothing. Nothing. Nothing but vaudeville.