Transcript of Sonics' co-owner deposition reveals two new e-mails

During a lengthy deposition on April 16, one of the
Seattle SuperSonics co-owners said that contrary to the e-mails and statements that have emerged in a lawsuit against the team, he and other team owners had "poured our heart and soul" into trying to keep the team in the Seattle area.

Sonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon was questioned for six hours by Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the city of Seattle, which is seeking to force the Sonics to honor their KeyArena lease and play there through 2010. The trial in the city's lawsuit against the Sonics' owners is scheduled to begin June 16.

The content of two more e-mails was revealed in the transcript of the deposition, which was released Friday afternoon in response to public disclosure requests from the Seattle-area media.

One e-mail, from early 2007, regarded McClendon and Sonics co-owner Tom Ward's financial political contributions to an anti gay-marriage group in 2004. The Democrat-controlled state legislature, which was considering whether to finance a Sonics arena proposal, was infuriated.

An openly gay Oklahoma politician, Jim Roth, contacted McClendon and offered to defend him against accusations of being anti-gay to the Seattle media.

According to the Seattle Times, McClendon believed the situation would actually improve the likelihood of moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City, telling Roth in an e-mail: "The reality is it just improves OKC's chances of getting them [the Sonics] here year after next."

Roth responded in the e-mail: "Yes, and then we all win."

During questioning on April 16, McClendon said he had been discouraged by "personal character attacks on me" and didn't believe any efforts by Roth would have swayed the legislature.

The second e-mail was from August 2007, in which McClendon apologized to principal Sonics owner Clay Bennett for saying in an Oklahoma newspaper story, "we didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here." McClendon's remarks in the newspaper generated a firestorm of outrage in Seattle, and the NBA fined McClendon $250,000 for making those remarks.

In an Aug. 13 e-mail to Bennett, McClendon wrote: "I'm so sorry, the truth is we did buy it with the hope of moving to Oklahoma City," according to a copy read aloud by Lawrence, the attorney for the city, and shown to McClendon during the deposition.

"Is that a true statement to Mr. Bennett?" Lawrence asked McClendon.

According to the transcript,
McClendon replied: "It is not a true statement with regard to the fact of what the plan was all along. The plan was to try and get a deal done in Seattle and if we couldn't get that deal done in the next year then we would look at our options, the best option of which would probably [be] move it to Oklahoma City."

McClendon said his comment to the newspaper came "at the end of a long interview at the end of a long day" and that he hadn't clearly expressed his true meaning, according to the deposition transcript.

On Tuesday, former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz added a third claim to a lawsuit that seeks to void the team's 2006 sale, alleging "breach of contract" in addition to the "negligent misrepresentation" and "fraudulent inducement" claims filed last month.

Schultz is seeking to void the $350 million sale so the Sonics can be sold to potential local owners instead and stay in Seattle long term.

Schultz filed suit soon after certain e-mails among the Sonics' current co-owners became public. The e-mails showed the Oklahoma parties' impatience with wanting to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City well before Bennett's deadline of October 2007 -- part of his purchase agreement with Schultz -- to find a new arena in King, Pierce or Snohomish counties in Washington. Last October, Bennett gained a contractual right to move the team.

The original complaint referenced an e-mail from Bennett to his co-owners two days before the sale. It stated that if a new arena deal was reached to keep the Sonics in Seattle, the Professional Basketball Club could just sell the team in a "sweet flip," and still leave the ownership group "in good shape for something in OKC."

In another e-mail from April 2007, Bennett stated, "I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can," in response to co-owner Ward asking if they were in for another "lame duck season" in Seattle.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.