Reading Clay Bennett's E-Mail


Attorneys for the City of Seattle, as part of their legal tussle with Sonic owners over the KeyArena lease, have discovered some shocking emails.

Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times tells the story. (The Times has also posted copies of actual emails. Like this.)

I implore you to read this entire email exchange between Sonics Chairman Clay Bennett and NBA Commissioner David Stern, in which Bennett swears that he and his co-owners always intended to keep the team in Seattle. Their conversation comes in August 2007, in the wake of the mini-scandal when one of Bennett's co-owners, Aubrey McClendon, was quoted last summer saying that the owners always intended to move the team to Oklahoma City:

I am concerned that you may feel I have betrayed your trust. David you know how I feel about our relationship both personally and professionally. You are among a very few, notwithstanding our relative brief actual physical time together that have significantly affected my life. I view you as a role model as an extraordinarily gifted executive, a deep and compassionate thinker, and a person with a rare and unique charisma that brings out the best in everyone you touch. You are just one of my favorite people on earth and I so cherish our relationship Sonics business aside. I would never breach your trust. As absolutely remarkable as it may seem, Aubrey and I have NEVER discussed moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City, nor have I discussed it with ANY other member of our ownership group. I have been passionately committed to our process in Seattle ...

Now, let that soliloquy ring in your head as I tell you that Clay Bennett's emails are also littered with what could best be described as "smoking gun" type evidence that the Sonic owners, despite a contractual obligation to make a good faith effort to stay, always intended to leave Seattle.

For instance, in the Seattle Times, Brunner writes about many examples that precede Bennett's pledge to Stern:

  • "In one e-mail [at the time of the team's purchase] sent to Bennett and Ward, McClendon celebrated the news with the subject line: 'the OKLAHOMA CITY SONIC BOOM (or maybe SONIC BOOMERS!) baby!!!!!!!!!!'"

  • "On April 17 last year, team co-owners Clay Bennett, Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward talked about whisking the Sonics away to Oklahoma as soon as possible even though it would mean breaching the KeyArena lease, according to the city's motion filed in U.S. District Court in New York City. 'Is there any way to move here [Oklahoma City] for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?' Ward wrote. Bennett replied: 'I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started!' Ward: 'That's the spirit!! I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here [in Oklahoma City] next year.' McClendon: 'Me too, thanks Clay!'"

  • "In June 2007, Tim Romani, an arena consultant for the Sonics, e-mailed Bennett that he would start 'reaching out' to Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch to 'engage him in deal negotiations,' the e-mails said."

  • In an e-mail exchange later in April, Bennett told McClendon it was 'quite likely' the team would play in Seattle another year but that he was 'attempting quietly and without litigation' to 'work through the lease.'"

Unless someone comes forward to prove these emails are not what they appear to be, I'd say that's game, set, match, for anyone who wants to prove that Clay Bennett has acted like a weasel.

It's also convincing in terms of documenting that the team's efforts to stay have not been in good faith.

But ... does any of this influence David Stern's support for Clay Bennett's ownership group? Does it affect the upcoming vote on relocating the team? Does this inspire a meaningful new level of public outcry? What new legal challenges might this present to relocation?

In short, does this do anything to help Sonic fans keep their team? We'll see.

(Via Enjoy the Enjoyment)