Share “Seattle's 'poison' NBA plan”

By Chris Casteel Published: June 21, 2008
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/> Griffin said he had discussed the "poisoned well” plan when he met with Ballmer about representing the Microsoft chief to look at options regarding the Sonics, including buying them from Bennett.

Keller asked about the line in the "poisoned well” plan about locking in losses for the Oklahoma City owners. The team has been losing money for years in part because it plays in an outdated arena and has contended that playing there for more two years would guarantee more heavy losses.

"You had no ability to lock the owners into losses, right?” Keller said. "The only people who had the ability to do that was the city and Mr. Gorton, right?”

"Yes,” Griffin said.

Keller showed e-mails from Griffin to Ballmer providing the Microsoft chief updates about what was going on in regard to the Sonics. Griffin had agreed to serve as Ballmer's representative to determine what options were available for keeping the team or getting another.

In one e-mail, Griffin told Ballmer, "Bennett needs to sell at a reasonable price; Litigation to stay and forced bleeding of about $20 (million) per year will help.”

At one point, Keller said to Griffin: "The plan sir, part of it, one of the approaches was to force them to sell by making them bleed.”

Griffin said, "Yes, one of the possibilities.”

Referring to Ballmer, Keller asked Griffin, "And you had a buyer waiting in the wings if they bled enough and said ‘yes,' right?”

"Right,” said Griffin.

Lawrence, an attorney for the city, sought to rehabilitate Griffin's character, getting him to say that he never really looked at the part in the "poisoned well” report about the approach to the Oklahomans.

"Do you and Mr. Ballmer want to bleed Clay Bennett or do you simply want to get a team for the Seattle Center?” Lawrence said.

"We want to get a team for the Seattle Center,” Griffin said.

More links to plan alleged
Walker, a former president of the Sonics, signed a contract in February with the city's law firm in this case to be a consultant. That contract was retroactive to last September, before the "poisoned well” plan was discussed.

Paul Taylor, an attorney for the owners, showed the contract in court to link Walker to the city by linking him to its law firm. Since the contract was retroactive to last September, it meant Walker was working as a consultant for the firm when he hosted the meeting in October to discuss the "poisoned well” plan.

Taylor also 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.”

And though Walker was tasked to help drive a wedge between the NBA and the Sonics' owners, he said he never took actions to do so.

For the first time all week, Pechman, the judge in the case, indicated some knowledge of the team's history.

When Lawrence asked Walker to give some biographical information about his time with the team, Pechman said, "I've seen Mr. Walker play ... and I was there in the late '70s watching him.”

When Lawrence asked about the Sonics' sole championship team, in 1979, Pechman said, "I was there, too.”

City of Seattle's 'poisoned well' documents


Developments
Friday in the SuperSonics trial:

•Attorneys for the Oklahoma City-based owners sought to prove a key point in their legal strategy: That Seattle had "unclean hands” when it filed a lawsuit to force the Sonics to play out the last two years of the lease at outdated KeyArena. The attorneys' contention: That the city refused to take a buy-out of the lease because it wants to bleed the owners and force them to sell the team to a local group, possibly one headed by Microsoft Corp. chief Steve Ballmer. "Unclean hands” is a defense that can be used in a contract dispute.

•Former Sonics star player and front office executive Wally Walker testified that he hosted a meeting at his house in October to discuss a "poisoned well” plan that 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.”

•Real estate developer and civic leader Pat Griffin testified that he wrote an e-mail to Ballmer saying, "Bennett needs to sell at a reasonable price; Litigation to stay and forced bleeding of about $20 (million) per year will help.”

•Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata testified that he advised state legislators in 2006 against supporting a plan committing city funds to a renovation of KeyArena. Licata also testified that he doesn't think professional sports teams have the economic value to cities that some argue.

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