Report: Sonics willing to leave name, history behind

Updated: March 25, 2008, 9:06 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Fans of professional basketball in Seattle might not be able to convince the SuperSonics to stay. But if the franchise leaves for Oklahoma City as widely expected, the team name might stay behind.

During a breakfast meeting for team sponsors Friday in Santa Monica, Calif., team owner Clay Bennett said he wants to negotiate a settlement in which he will take the team's players and coaches, but leave the team's name, colors and 41-year history behind for another franchise to adopt, The Seattle Times reported.

Sonics spokesman Dan Mahoney confirmed Bennett's statement on Monday.

In its $26.5 million settlement offer to Seattle leaders, the team's ownership group said, "We understand the city's desire to reserve the Sonics name for a future franchise and will support the city's effort with the NBA on this issue," according to the report.

The city and the franchise's owners are currently in a legal dispute over the team's attempts to buy its way out of the lease for Key Arena and move to Oklahoma City for next season. A trial is scheduled for this summer, unless both sides agree to a settlement.

In a related development, City Council members in Oklahoma City unanimously approved a preliminary lease agreement with the Sonics on Tuesday.

After a tour of the Ford Center and a presentation from city and state officials, NBA commissioner David Stern said Tuesday a subcommittee of three NBA owners would suggest approval of the SuperSonics' move by the rest of the league.

The 15-year deal, contingent on the planned move, calls for the Sonics to pay the city $1.6 million annually to use the Ford Center and another $409,000 per year to be able to re-sell the arena's naming rights.

The deal would not become official unless NBA team owners approve the Sonics' relocation in a meeting next month and until the team can escape its lease in Seattle that runs through 2010.

"My hope is that we'll find a settlement with Seattle that will give them the opportunity to have a replacement team," New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz said after touring the Ford Center in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. "Seattle should have an NBA team, and I think David expressed that in the meetings. We all feel that way. My guess is you haven't heard the end of the Seattle story."

A spokesman for Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said Bennett last spoke with Gregoire on March 5, and that their conversation left the governor encouraged about the city's chances of landing another NBA franchise and retaining the Sonics' name and identity.

However, Gregoire also came away from that conversation convinced that Bennett would not sell the Sonics to a local buyer.

"He made it very clear to me -- and not in a nasty way at all -- in his words, unequivocally, 'Not for sale.' … At some point, we have to accept that," Gregoire told the Times earlier this month.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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