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Sonics defense shreds professor's report
City's commissioned document is from 2005 legal case in L.A.

By Chris Casteel Published: June 18, 2008
District Judge Marsha Pechman, who is hearing the case without a jury, asked Zimbalist again if he came up with a dollar figure in the Los Angeles case but not the Seattle case. Zimbalist replied that he did, but she didn't ask him to explain why.

One twist to Zimbalist's questioning by Taylor came after a lawyer for the city made the point through the professor that the owners had tried to hire him.

Zimbalist's testimony interrupted that of Oklahoma City investor Clay Bennett, who was on the stand much of the day and is expected to return today. Zimbalist had a scheduling conflict and the attorneys moved him up.

Paul Lawrence, the lead attorney for the city, stood by Zimbalist when questioned by reporters at the end of the day, saying that he is probably the foremost sports economist in the country.

Lawrence also told reporters that the city had made its case in this trial because Bennett had acknowledged that he and other Oklahoma City businessmen bought the SuperSonics in 2006 knowing they would lose money and were operating under a bad lease with the city-controlled KeyArena.

"The basic premise of this case is the lease,” said Lawrence, adding that Bennett and the other investors assumed the lease and the risk when they bought the team and shouldn't be able to get out of a contract.

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for the owners, declined to comment on Lawrence's statements to reporters.

During testimony, Lawrence asked Bennett, "You were aware that the lease had been characterized as the most unfavorable lease in the league.”

"Yes,” Bennett replied.

Later, Lawrence said, "You're a sophisticated businessman who knows what it means to sign a contract, are you not?”

"Yes,” Bennett said.

Answering another question, Bennett said he had intended to honor the lease when he helped purchase the team. He said he had been hoping that the owners would be able to secure funding for a new arena in the area and that the team would play out the lease while it was being built.

But Lawrence challenged Bennett on his true motives, using a timeline of events in late 2006 through the spring of 2007 aimed at showing Bennett wasn't working seriously toward an alternative arena here.

Later, an attorney for the owners solicited testimony from Bennett that showed the owners had hired numerous contractors and lobbyists to help find and push for another site for the team to play.

Bennett denied that the team traded away its two highest-paid players to trim its payroll because the team is losing money. And he said that if the team is forced to stay in Seattle, he won't make decisions "from spite.”

Andrew Zimbalist


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