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Originally published July 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Sonics, city reach settlement

The city of Seattle will be paid $45 million in exchange for letting the Sonics move to Oklahoma City this year as part of last-minute settlement...

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The city of Seattle will be paid $45 million in exchange for letting the Sonics move to Oklahoma City this year as part of last-minute settlement announced this afternoon.

Sonics owner Clay Bennett may have to pay an additional $30 million in five years if the city is unable to secure another NBA team, under the terms of the settlement announced at simultaneous press conferences in Seattle and Oklahoma City.

The deal means the end of the Sonics' 41-year stay in Seattle, starting as the city's first professional sports team. Mayor Greg Nickels acknowledged there is no guarantee the city will get another NBA team.

In Oklahoma City, Bennett announced the settlement to applause: "We made it. Congratulations.... The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season, playing their games."

"The transition and move of the operation of this team begins tomorrow morning."

Nickels said the settlement preserves the possibility of NBA basketball in Seattle in the future — noting that NBA Commissioner David Stern agreed as part of the deal that a renovated KeyArena could be suitable for basketball.

In a statement, Stern said he was "pleased" with the settlement and said the NBA still regards "Seattle as a first-class NBA city that is capable of serving as home for another NBA team."

However, Nickels said the state Legislature must pass a funding bill next year to help pay for a KeyArena renovation or the city will lose its chance to get another NBA team.

If no arena package is in place by the end of next year, Bennett will not be obligated to pay the additional $30 million owed to the city under the settlement.

The NBA pledged to notify the city if any teams become available, but Nickels acknowledged there are "no promises." The Sonics history and colors will remain in Seattle.

News of the settlement came just hours before federal Judge Marsha Pechman was to issue a ruling in the lawsuit between the city and the Sonics over the KeyArena lease. The city had sued the Sonics to force the team to continue playing in Seattle through the end of the lease in 2010. The trial wrapped up last week.

Of the legal effort to get out of the lease, Bennett said, "We were organized, we were prepared, we worked hard." He added, "Of course the (Howard) Schultz lawsuit is out there. We believe it is baseless and has no merit and we will fight it vigorously."

Former Sonics owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's suit alleges that Bennett broke a promise to try to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

Schultz wants a court to transfer the Sonics to local ownership.

Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and City Attorney Tom Carr briefed City Council members today on the settlement.

The city in February rejected a settlement offer of $26.5 million from Bennett, who wants to move the team to Oklahoma City.

Staff reporters Percy Allen and Steve Miletich contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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