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Originally published Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Sonics owners willing to leave behind team name if franchise moves

Sonics chairman Clay Bennett is so eager to sever ties with Seattle that he's willing to leave the team's name, logo, colors and history...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sonics chairman Clay Bennett is so eager to sever ties with Seattle that he's willing to leave the team's name, logo, colors and history behind to avoid a messy divorce.

During a breakfast meeting for team sponsors Friday at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in Southern California, Bennett said he plans to influence the city to accept a buyout. He also told several sponsors that he wants to negotiate a settlement in which the city retains nearly everything associated with the Sonics except the players and coaches.

Sonics spokesman Dan Mahoney confirmed Bennett's statement on Monday.

"That's an accurate assessment," he said. He added that the ownership group told the city last month it was willing to leave behind the Sonics name, logo and history.

In its $26.5 million settlement offer, which was rejected and panned by city officials, the ownership group sent a letter to city attorney Tom Carr that read: "We understand the city's desire to reserve the Sonics name for a future franchise and will support the city's effort with the NBA on this issue."

Several team employees and at least six sponsors were at Friday's meeting in which Bennett said he told Gov. Christine Gregoire about the ownership group's plans to begin a new history in Oklahoma City.

According to Gregoire press secretary Aaron Toso, the governor last spoke with Bennett on March 5, the day after Oklahoma City residents approved $120 million in taxes to make improvements on the Ford Center and build an off-site practice facility for the Sonics.

After their conversation, Gregoire said she was encouraged about the city's chances of landing another NBA team and holding onto the Sonics name.

"He made it very clear to me — and not in a nasty way at all — in his words, unequivocally, 'Not for sale,' " Gregoire told The Times earlier this month. She added, "At some point, we have to accept that."

Mahoney declined to speculate why Bennett is willing to leave behind the Sonics name, logo and history, but it's thought the team wants to reach a settlement before the NBA Board of Governors rules April 18 on its bid to move to Oklahoma City.

The team also wants to resolve the issue before the city's trial against the team begins in June.

While Bennett is plotting an exit strategy, the Save Our Sonics group hired an airplane that circled KeyArena before Monday's game against Portland with a banner that read: "Sonics: Belong in Seattle!" and a few hundred fans gathered.

Anticipating a protest, the team hired extra police officers and received additional NBA security. But there was no disturbance other than fans who frequently chanted "Save our Sonics."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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