Share “Plan hatched to keep Sonics in Seattle”

By Chris Casteel Modified: June 20, 2008 at 5:06 pm •  Published: June 20, 2008
SEATTLE - The former president of the Seattle Supersonics discussed a “poisoned well’’ plan with other prominent people here last fall that was aimed partly at forcing the Oklahoma City owners to sell the NBA team rather than relocate it to their home town.

Wally Walker, who played for the Sonics in the late 1970s and worked in the team’s front office for 12 years, testified in federal court here today that he hosted a meeting in October that also included former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, now an attorney here, and Microsoft Corp. executive Steve Ballmer.

At the meeting, the men discussed a plan called “The Sonics Challenge: Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity.”

Walker testified as a witness of the Oklahoma City owners, who want to buy their way out of the last two years of a lease with the city for the arena at which the Sonics play. The owners’ attorneys are trying to show that the city, which is suing the owners to make them play out the lease here, has “unclean hands’’ in the suit and was participating in a plan to keep the team here to force the owners to sell to a local group of businessmen.

Elements of the plan, written by a friend of Walker, Mike McGavick, said:

* “For the best likely outcome, two things have to happen next: Oklahomans have to be willing to sell and the public folks have to do the right thing;

* “The critical path is to separate the NBA from the Oklahomans, while increasing the exposure of both;

* “The city (of Seattle) has taken the first of several steps and is about to take the second --First, they hired Slade Gorton and used the misstep of an out-of-state arbitration filing to file suit, increasing the prospect of locking (the owners) into losses in Seattle; This also exposes the league to embarrassment in a market they like."

Ballmer at the time was being asked to consider heading a group to buy the Sonics from the Oklahomans. A few weeks before this meeting, the Oklahoma City owners had filed for arbitration to negotiate a settlement to the lease to allow them to relocate to Oklahoma City.

Gorton is an attorney for the law firm representing the city in this case, though he has not appeared in court this week.

As local businessman discussed plans for keeping the Sonics in Seattle last fall, Walker was given the duty of driving a “wedge’’ between the NBA and the Oklahoma City owners.

But he testified today that he never did anything to do that.

Walker signed a contract in February with the city’s law firm in this case to be a consultant, though the contract was retroactive to last September, before the “poisoned well” plan was discussed.

Paul Taylor, an attorney for the owners, sought to show that Walker was in fact working for the city of Seattle against the owners when the meeting was held at his house.

He showed an e-mail Walker had written in which Walker said the goal was to make it “too expensive and too litigious” for the owners to stay in Seattle.

“You wanted to make it too expensive to leave,’’ Taylor said to Walker.

“True,’’ Walker said.

“And you wanted to make it too litigious to leave, true?’’

“I wrote it an e-mail.’’

Taylor also showed an e-mail written by local businessman John Stanton, who had an ownership interest in the Sonics before the Oklahoma City group bought the team, saying that he agreed “completely that it should be excruciating for Clay to consider early departure.’’

But under friendly questioning from city attorney Paul Lawrence, Walker said he was just trying to keep the Sonics in Seattle and didn’t care who owned the team.

Lawrence said, “Have you ever taken any actions that would force them to sell or force them to incur huge losses?”

“No,’’ Walker said.

“You’re just a basketball fan who wants to save the Sonics for Seattle?”

“That’s correct.”

Testimony in the trial is expected to end today, and closing arguments are scheduled for June 26.

City of Seattle's 'poisoned well' documents

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