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Originally published Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Clay's excuses sound as contrived as his arena plan

In a rare moment of public introspection, Clay Bennett cleared his throat and began a dramatic monologue. The witness stand was now his...

Seattle Times staff columnist

In a rare moment of public introspection, Clay Bennett cleared his throat and began a dramatic monologue. The witness stand was now his stage.

Cut to the close-up.

Cue the violin.

Commence the sheepish confession.

"We bought this team with grand visions for success," the Sonics chairman said Wednesday. "Did we do everything right? Did we understand everything there was to understand? Certainly not. Did we make mistakes? Certainly. Did we do everything we knew how to do? Did we work as hard as we could? ... Yes. And I believed from the bottom of my heart we would succeed. And I am personally disappointed that we did not."

Perhaps this was his goodbye speech to Seattle. Whether he wins or loses this court case, Bennett won't be spending much time around here anymore. He hinted as much Tuesday when he joked that, if the Sonics are forced to play more games at KeyArena, Mayor Greg Nickels who was previously convicted of being an absentee Sonics fan, would "probably be able to see more of them than I'll be able to."

Whatever the intent of Bennett's soliloquy, an appropriate response comes to mind.

Boo hoo.

He can take his grand visions and heartfelt pleas and write an e-mail to someone who cares. For a covert businessman, Bennett sure tries to be a smooth talker when attempting to correct his mistakes.

He looks at you with childlike innocence when asked about his infamous "man possessed" e-mail and declares he meant he was possessed to keep the team here, not move it to Oklahoma City. Forget that the context of the conversation clearly proves otherwise. Bennett is a puppy dog; he means no harm.

He turns solemn when asked about his insensitive "boo hoo" e-mail in which he declared his disinterest in his players' reluctance to move to Oklahoma City. Bennett says he has apologized for a remark he thought would remain private. And in the next breath, he claims the Sonics must move because he'll have trouble acquiring free agents because of the uncertainty. Boo double hoo.

Reference any mistake, and Bennett counters that he was too naïve or misunderstood or idealistic. Then he requests that you fix the problem by giving him what he wants.

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It's a nice strategy if you can get away with it. Call it the Mulligan Method.

Let's hope the game is over for Bennett.

After testifying for nearly eight hours over two days, Bennett exited the witness stand Wednesday, his sins detailed, his contradictions scrutinized and his ineffectiveness explained. He gave his good-faith best efforts to defend himself, but he was as unconvincing as ever.

Unless you're a sucker for sad tales doused with overwrought regret.

Let's hope that Judge Marsha Pechman doesn't fall for it.

If this trial has proved anything thus far, it's that Bennett spent most of his time flubbing his way through an ill-conceived plan to build an arena, threw his hands in the air and then stopped pretending he wanted to keep the Sonics here.

The city's lawyers, who began these proceedings in disjointed fashion, have recovered and proved that the Oklahoma Raiders bought the Sonics fully aware of the burdensome KeyArena situation. They also made the Raiders out to be a fractured, dysfunctional bunch without a clear plan to succeed in the effort to keep the Sonics where they belong.

At the beginning, back in July 2006, former Raiders co-owner Ed Evans met with Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis about KeyArena. In Exhibit 69, the city revealed an e-mail from Evans in which he said the meeting with Ceis went "amazingly well."

Of course, Evans left the group shortly thereafter.

Nevertheless, Bennett remains steadfast that the Raiders had no interest in renovating KeyArena. These guys weren't interested in anything besides moving the team. Clay's contradictions emphasize that.

He turned the words "good-faith best effort" into a legal term. He never utilized Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who was willing to help him. He constantly negotiated with one eye on a solution and the other eye on trying to determine what constituted a good-faith best effort.

It's like saying you will try your hardest to run a mile and then stopping every 100 meters to see if you've satisfied the requirement. You'll never finish the mile that way. You don't want to finish the mile.

And now, before the outcome of this trial has been decided, Bennett has already given his exit speech to Seattle.

Forgive him for that one. He was just trying to be sincere.

Like with everything he attempts, Bennett should try a little harder.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For more columns and the Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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