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Former Sonics owner drops lawsuit against new owner

SEATTLE -- Former Seattle SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz is dropping his lawsuit against new team owner Clay Bennett, ending an attempt to return the team from its new home in Oklahoma City.

After two recent rulings in Schultz's lawsuit went in favor of Bennett, the Starbucks Corp. CEO filed a motion for dismissal Friday in federal court.

"As a result of these developments, our legal team and I no longer believe we can be successful with this litigation," Schultz wrote in a letter to former members of his ownership group, the Basketball Club of Seattle.

In a statement Friday from Oklahoma City, Bennett said, "We are pleased to now be able to move on. We look forward to an exciting future of NBA basketball in Oklahoma City."

Last week, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in Seattle that the NBA could intervene in the lawsuit. She also denied Schultz's motion to split the trial into two separate phases: a liability phase and, if needed, a remedy phase. The trial was scheduled for June 15.

Schultz also said the city of Seattle's settlement with Bennett, allowing the Sonics to move to Oklahoma City in time for the 2008-09 season, hampered his case. Schultz also feared that furthering the legal battle could anger the NBA and hamper efforts to get a new team in Seattle in the future.

"We have received feedback that a continuing adversarial relationship with the NBA was not politically useful to the city's ongoing efforts to secure a future franchise," Schultz wrote. "Thus, the prevailing wisdom of many in the Seattle community and the advice of key members of the BCOS is that Seattle's best chance for a professional basketball franchise is to end this litigation and allow the city, state Legislature and other parties to begin the necessary fence mending with the NBA."

Schultz sold the team to Bennett's ownership group in 2006 for $350 million.

Last April, Schultz sued to regain ownership, contending Bennett failed to carry through on a promise to negotiate in good faith for a new arena in Seattle for one full year. Schultz had hoped to undo the sale so he could initiate a transfer of the team to a buyer who would keep it in Seattle.

"It was very disappointing not being able to move forward with an effective strategy," said Schultz's attorney, Richard Yarmuth. "At some point in life you have to look and see if you can achieve your goals. ... It was not a good plan."

Bennett's lawyers argued that it was "too late to unscramble the eggs," noting that the NBA team is already "firmly embedded in Oklahoma City."

"We are pleased Mr. Schultz sees that it is neither in his nor Seattle's best interest to continue this litigation," Bennett's attorney, Brad Keller, said in a statement. "The team has left for its new home in Oklahoma City and it's time to move on."