OKLAHOMA CITY -- NBA commissioner David Stern fired back Friday against accusations from former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz, asserting in a court filing that he did not make threatening remarks to the Starbucks chief executive.
Stern signed a three-paragraph declaration confirming he had spoken with Schultz on June 25 about the former owner's decision to continue with his lawsuit attempting to prevent Clay Bennett's ownership group from moving the team to Oklahoma City when the city of Seattle was working on a settlement.
Schultz, who owned the Sonics from 2001 until July 2006, claimed in a court filing last week that Stern told him during the conversation that the effort would become "very expensive" for Schultz and his partners if he did not enter the city's settlement.
Stern disputed that version of their talk.
"At no time during the conversation did I threaten Mr. Schultz in any way -- either expressly or implicitly -- regarding his continuation of this lawsuit or any other matter," Stern wrote in the document filed Friday in Seattle's federal court.
Schultz's lawsuit claims that Bennett failed to carry through on a promise to negotiate in good faith for a new arena in Seattle for one full year after he purchased the SuperSonics from Schultz in July 2006. He hopes to undo that sale and reclaim control of the team.
Bennett has called the lawsuit "baseless" and said he intends to fight it.
After the city of Seattle and Bennett announced on July 2 that they had reached a settlement worth up to $75 million allowing Bennett to buy out of the final two years of the SuperSonics' lease in Seattle, the NBA asked to intervene in Schultz's lawsuit. The league claims that its constitution prevents any court from changing a team's ownership because other NBA owners must approve such a move.
In his court filing, Stern described a "pleasant and amiable conversation" with Schultz that covered social and business issues and wrote that he didn't understand why Schultz would "go to the hassle and expense" of pursuing his lawsuit if the city was settling.
"Mr. Schultz told me that he did not believe the city had obtained in the settlement a sufficient commitment from the NBA to locate a new team in Seattle at some point in the future," Stern wrote. "I explained to him that such a promise could not be made because these were issues for future deliberations of Committees of the NBA Board of Governors and the Board itself."
The NFL made a similar deal when the Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore, promising the city a replacement franchise with the same logo, name and colors.