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Originally published Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Rest of basketball world has barely noticed Sonics trial

The basketball world has gone on without Seattle, it seems. Most fans, and media, are focused on the NBA Finals and a possible officiating scandal, and have barely noticed the Sonics' trial.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The courtroom battle between Seattle and the Sonics, which began in the middle of the NBA Finals, could have embarrassed the league and distracted from its showcase event.

But after two days of testimony, including six hours on the stand by Sonics chairman Clay Bennett on Tuesday, the rest of the NBA world hardly seems interested in the story.

Instead, the focus has been on an exciting NBA Finals, which ended Tuesday with the Boston Celtics' victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, and a referee gambling scandal.

The trial rates a distant third, said ESPN Magazine writer Chris Broussard.

"It has not registered here," Broussard said during a telephone interview from Boston. "The thing that has registered is the officiating and the whole thing with [ex-referee] Tim Donaghy. People are focusing on the referees' calls. I haven't heard anything about it or seen anything about it around the Finals.

"I think there's a bit of an assumption that it's a done deal. Maybe that's the NBA spin machine at work."

At his annual state of the league address last week, commissioner David Stern received just one question about the Sonics.

"I think that Seattle has been a terrific market for us, great fans," he said during a 32-minute news conference before Game 2 of the Finals on June 8. "Unfortunately they weren't able to marshal timely support for a building of the future. But that doesn't change the way we feel about Seattle in a positive way.

"But we don't have any specific plans for replacing the team. But that doesn't preclude us from revisiting Seattle at a later date. I don't know, no specific plans, but good feelings about Seattle. I guess I would say, come back and see how we feel after the trial, but we'll see how that goes."

A handful of national writers at the Finals said they were busy flying from Los Angeles to Boston on Monday and were unaware that thousands of fans rallied on the federal courthouse steps in Seattle after the first day of the trial adjourned.

Vince Kates, who produces Colin Cowherd's nationally syndicated ESPN radio show "The Herd," said that if any new embarrassing e-mails between the Sonics owners were to emerge, then maybe his listeners would be interested again.

"But I think we've heard the worst or the best that we're going to get from those e-mails," Kates said. "Right now, it's an old story. It may be big news in Seattle, but when we're talking about the NBA or when we're talking basketball stories nationally, we don't get any buzz about the Sonics."

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Sports Illustrated writer Ian Thomsen said: "Maybe when the season is over, there will be more coverage nationally about what's going on there, but next week you're running up against the draft, so maybe not. If you wanted to have a trial involving a city suing an NBA team, then this is the best time to have it."

The trial is scheduled to conclude June 26, which coincides with the draft. The Sonics have the No. 4 pick.

Notes

• Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence declined to comment when asked if the city has engaged in settlement discussions with the Sonics since the trial began Monday. "We're focused on what's in front of us," he said.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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