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Originally published April 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 19, 2008 at 12:51 AM

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Bennett explains what Sonics e-mails meant

When Sonics chairman Clay Bennett wrote "I am a man possessed" in an e-mail, he says he meant "I am a man possessed to keep the team in...

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When Sonics chairman Clay Bennett wrote "I am a man possessed" in an e-mail, he says he meant "I am a man possessed to keep the team in Seattle."

Any other inference is inaccurate, he said Friday after the NBA Board of Governors voted 28-2 to approve the team's bid to move to Oklahoma City next season, pending the outcome of a June lawsuit from the city of Seattle.

In filings last week, the city revealed e-mails between the Oklahoma City-based ownership in which they spoke about moving the team to their hometown. The e-mails seemingly contradict Bennett's claims that he gave a "good-faith best effort" attempt to keep the team in Seattle after buying it July 2006, which was part of the sales agreement with former owner Howard Schultz.

On April 17, 2007, Sonics co-owner Tom Ward wrote co-owner Aubrey McClendon and Bennett: "Is there any way to move here for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?"

Bennett replied: "I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started!"

Ward replied: "That's the spirit!! I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here next year."

On Friday, Bennett denied claims he acted in bad faith.

"I feel very bad about the misrepresentation of that particular e-mail; the fact that it's been misconstrued and been utilized in such a fashion, because I clearly recall that e-mail exchange," he said. "That e-mail exchange took place when I first learned that our bill had died in committee in Olympia, and that there would be no public funding forthcoming relative to our proposition.

"And my absolute feeling and emotion in that e-mail is I am a man possessed; I am only beginning; I will do everything I can to get this done in Seattle. And there's been an enormous misunderstanding of that, misrepresentation of that, misconstrued, I'm not sure which, but I was speaking about my commitment to a process in Seattle."

Bennett admitted Ward and McClendon "perhaps all along wanted to have a team in Oklahoma City," but added that "they knew it was not to be the Sonics."

Last year, McClendon drew a $250,000 fine from the NBA for statements in an Oklahoma business journal in which he said: "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle, we hoped to come here."

NBA commissioner David Stern said the city of Seattle's e-mail disclosure had little bearing on the owners' decision.

"There may be issues and litigation that require testimony, documents, etc., and, all of that is forthcoming and that's where we'll be following that and participating to some degree as witnesses or producers of documents," Stern said. "But that did not play any role. There was no questioning of that issue. There was a statement by Clay and my sense is, there was an acceptance of his statement."

Bennett said he was naïve about the difficulty in building an arena in the Seattle area.

He said he's made at least 30 trips to Seattle and spent millions of dollars while trying to drum up support for a $500 million Renton arena plan that died in the state Legislature last year.

"Safeco [Field] is one of the most magnificent modern baseball stadiums in the country," Bennett said. "You've got Qwest that is one of the most magnificent modern football stadiums in the country. And you have got KeyArena that is basically a renovated 1962 building."

Mayor Greg Nickels said he does not seek a buyout to settle the lawsuit and the increasingly hostile rhetoric between city officials and Bennett suggests the two sides will settle their differences at the trial, which begins June 16.

Despite the hostility, Bennett offered a truce Friday, saying he would like to restart communications with the city of Seattle.

"Let's find a way to dial it down and get something productive on track," he said.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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