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Sonics case must remain in U.S. court
Attempt at arbitration for lease dispute denied

By Darnell Mayberry Modified: October 30, 2007 at 12:02 pm •  Published: October 30, 2007
Shaquille O'Neal apparently has a better chance at hitting two straight foul shots than the Sonics had at having their arena dispute resolved through arbitration.

A federal judge in Washington state on Monday added insult to injury when he wittily denied the Sonics' request to have their lease dispute with the city of Seattle settled by a panel of arbitrators.

In a written order, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that the Sonics' case must stay in his court, adding that the team's Oklahoma-based ownership group's arguments to terminate their lease early were "as errant as a typical Shaquille O'Neal free throw.”

O'Neal, the Miami Heat's 11-time All-Star center, is a career 52.5-percent shooter at the foul line.

Team owners and spokesmen couldn't be reached for comment, but a statement released by the ownership group's attorneys late Monday night said the ownership was pleased to have a prompt decision.

"It's important to note that the decision addresses the forum in which the dispute will be decided, not the merits of the case,” the statement read. "The Sonics owners are confident that they can perform their financial obligations under the lease and that the city is not entitled to specific performance.”

Attorneys for the city of Seattle couldn't be reached Monday. Seattle officials are arguing that the Sonics should not be allowed to vacate KeyArena until their Premises Use and Occupancy Agreement expires in 2010. Seattle attorneys are citing a clause in the contract known as specific performance that requires the Sonics to schedule and play all home games at KeyArena through 2010.

The Sonics contend the city cannot force the franchise to stay and play at KeyArena if the team fulfills its financial payments for the remaining years of the arena contract.

Sonics chairman Clay Bennett has said he would apply with the NBA for relocation to Oklahoma City if a plan for a new publicly funded arena is not available in Washington by Wednesday.

But Martinez now appears to be the mediator who will ultimately decide whether the Sonics can relocate next season or must wait until 2010.

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