Oklahoma City officials contend that the Seattle SuperSonics must relocate by contract to Oklahoma City "regardless of who owns the Team.” Officials also reveal in a legal letter that Oklahoma City is prepared to sue in federal court to force the relocation. The nine-page letter was sent Thursday to an attorney for the former owners of the Sonics. The former owners on April 22 asked a federal judge in Seattle to overturn the 2006 sale of the NBA team. They want the Sonics sold "to an honest buyer who desires to keep the Sonics in Seattle.” The former owners are led by Howard Schultz, the chief executive officer of Starbucks, a popular coffee chain. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said Friday, "We felt it was important that they understood our position. It was meant for informational purposes only. How it's received, I can't predict, but that was the purpose.” The former owners' attorney, Richard Yarmuth of Seattle, declined to comment Friday. The Oklahoma-based owners of the Sonics want to play in Oklahoma City, starting next season. They face two hurdles: the former owners' lawsuit and a separate lawsuit filed by the city of Seattle. Seattle is suing to force the team to play two more seasons at Seattle's KeyArena because of a lease there. A trial on Seattle's lawsuit is set to start June 16 in Seattle. In the legal letter, Oklahoma City's attorney wrote that the city already has "valid and enforceable agreements with the Team requiring it relocate to Oklahoma City at the end of the current lease with the City of Seattle.” The move could be as soon as this summer if the judge in Seattle lets the team out of the lease there early. The agreement with Oklahoma City requires the team to play in Oklahoma City for 15 years. Oklahoma City Assistant Municipal Counselor Wiley L. Williams wrote the team must relocate even if the former owners succeed in their lawsuit to overturn the sale. He wrote Oklahoma City is committed "to honor, uphold and to enforce the OKC NBA Agreements, as needed.” "There is an expectation by City leadership and citizens that the owners of the Team, whomever they may be, will honor all of the Team's contractual obligations with the City — including the contractual obligation to relocate to Oklahoma City and to play home games at the Ford Center for the duration of the term of the lease,” the Oklahoma City assistant municipal counselor wrote.Comments
How much is at stake?Williams wrote Oklahoma City will spend as much as $120 million on projects to upgrade the Ford Center and build a practice facility. He wrote Oklahoma City would be obligated to sue on behalf of its taxpayers to force the team to relocate. He wrote the city also could seek damages. He wrote, "Damages ... will be substantial.” Any lawsuit by Oklahoma City would be filed in federal court in Oklahoma City. The former owners want the sale overturned because they contend the Oklahoma-based buyers lied to them. The former owners contend the new owners never intended to keep the team in Seattle, as promised. Schultz has said he doesn't want the team back, just for it to be sold to a buyer committed to keeping it in Seattle. Sonics Chairman Clay Bennett has said he made good-faith efforts and spent millions of dollars to keep the team in Washington. "We tried the best we knew how to try,” he said April 18.