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Can Starbucks' Schultz save face with steamed Seattle?

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 16, 2008 at 1:22 am •  Published: April 16, 2008
As the clock ticks toward an NBA vote to relocate the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City — 48 hours and dwindling — the good citizens of Seattle are doing what every city does when facing a franchise exodus.

Fighting back. Kicking and scratching and clawing. Marquess of Queensberry rules be damned. This is the corporate version of street fighting. And here's the latest.

Mister Coffee wants his Sonics back.

In a plot twist so peculiar you can look for it on Law & Order next season, Howard Schultz says he is filing a lawsuit to rescind the sale of the Sonics. The Starbucks czar jump-started the OKC express by selling the Sonics in July 2006 to Clay Bennett's Oklahoma City ownership group.

Schultz's lawyer claims the recently-exposed emails between Bennett and his partners prove a breach of contract, arguing that Bennett committed fraud when he agreed to make a "good-faith effort” to spend a full year trying to get a new arena deal in Seattle.

Truth is, Schultz is trying to save face more than save the Sonics. This seems like one more publicity stunt from Seattle, of which there have been plenty in recent months.

When the smoke clears and the Sonics are in OKC, Puget Sound basketball fans will start focusing their disgust away from Beelzebub Bennett and to the home folks with blood on their hands.

The government leaders, city and state, who derailed all of Bennett's ideas.

The corporate community, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, one of those publicity stunters who this week was called out by NBA commissioner David Stern. Pointing the finger — a different finger — back at Seattle, Stern reminded the city that when Schultz offered the team for sale, no one from that corner of the country wanted the Sonics, including Ballmer, who staged a bid to buy the team from Bennett a few weeks ago, even though it wasn't for sale.

And Schultz himself, who sold the team because of a stated exasperation with no arena progress.

The first season Seattle goes through an NBA-less winter, Bennett's not going to be the only dirty word in Seattle.

Schultz will be cast as the man who brought in the Okies and should have known they could pilfer the Sonics to two time zones away.

Demonic status wouldn't be a blow to Schultz's Starbucks empire — he's got dazed customers addicted to paying $3.40 for cappuccino, not just in Seattle but across the globe, including The Oklahoman's very own sports staff — but it would be a blow to Schultz's social legacy. While Kevin Durant becomes an NBA all-star in OKC, Schultz would be a villain in his own city. Can anyone say, uncomfortable cocktail parties?

Of course, this is America, and if something goes wrong, you sue, so maybe Schultz has a fighting chance in court. The legal people I talked to Tuesday called the case "peculiar” and "one of a kind.”

It most definitely is Seattle's best idea from the let's-try-anything strategy of recent weeks.

Read Gregoire's letter to the NBA

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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