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Originally published April 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 21, 2008 at 8:51 AM

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Guest columnist

The battle for Seattle's Sonics has barely begun, Mr. Bennett

NBA team owners vote today on whether to allow relocation of the Sonics franchise to Oklahoma City. In all likelihood, they will vote to...

Special to The Times

NBA team owners vote today on whether to allow relocation of the Sonics franchise to Oklahoma City. In all likelihood, they will vote to approve the move, following the advice of Commissioner David Stern. At that point, many people will feel that the battle is over, the team is moving, and that nothing can be done to stop the inevitable.

These people need to get with the times.

We heard that this battle was over on the day the sale was announced, and again on the day Clay Bennett's $500 million Renton arena proposal died in the state Legislature. Come to think of it, we again heard the same cries of "Give it up, it's over" at the end of this most recent legislative session.

The truth is, the battle is just beginning — and our leverage and momentum have never been greater.

Over the past month, some of the biggest names in the region have jumped into the fray. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and former Sen. Slade Gorton laid out a plan that would keep the team at KeyArena and provide Seattle Center a much-needed shot in the arm. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Costco's Jim Sinegal joined wireless magnate John Stanton and developer Matt Griffin in offering to buy the Sonics and committing $150 million of their own money toward a KeyArena remodel. Nickels and the city of Seattle also stepped forward with $75 million.

More recently, the city's lawsuit compelling the team to honor its lease uncovered e-mails between Bennett and his Oklahoma raiders that clearly show the group never intended to keep the Sonics here and has been deceiving both this region and the NBA about its intentions from the very beginning. Those e-mails have stirred strong reactions from the national media and NBA fans, but the regional response to these revelations has been even more important.

In the past 72 hours, a virtual who's who of Washington politicians have stepped forward to voice their outrage and their support for keeping the Sonics in Seattle. This list includes obvious names, such as Gov. Christine Gregoire. But surprise additions, such as Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin, show broad support — among multiple levels of local government — for keeping the team.

On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have all weighed in with their support for keeping the Sonics and have expressed their disgust at the deception played out by the Sonics ownership and Stern.

The incriminating e-mails also provided enough ammunition for former Sonics majority owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and the other local business leaders who comprised the former ownership group, the Basketball Club of Seattle, to announce plans to file a suit claiming fraud at the point of sale and requesting the sale of the team be undone.

Local attorney Richard Yarmuth, who has a strong background in antitrust and sports-related lawsuits, will represent Schultz and the other former co-owners in the suit against Bennett.

Schultz, like many others, may have realized that this is shaping up as a debate in which it is not possible to remain pleasantly neutral. Bennett's actions and Stern's tacit support have transformed this fight into much more than just a debate about the value of sports franchises.

Instead, the story has become that of a rich outsider who thinks his money allows him to steal an important and irreplaceable part of our city's cultural identity. His e-mails among his partners and Stern reveal not only a sickening display of fawning cronyism, but also smack of arrogant privilege and disregard of what the Sonics mean to our city.

Ultimately, they prove beyond doubt that all previous attempts at "good-faith efforts" made on Bennett's part in this region can be shown for what they truly were: empty, token gestures.

This battle is turning into a classic case of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong and heroes vs. villains. Rather than playing the middle ground, Seattle has chosen to stand up for what is the good and right side in this debate — and it's important to know that we are not alone in coming to this conclusion.

Watch any of the sports-related talk shows on television, or browse any of the hundreds of Web sites online and it is clear that a groundswell is well under way on this issue; one that was buoyed by the class with which our fans showed their obvious pain and loyalty at the Sonics' home finale, and one that continues to gain momentum each day from the everyman fan all the way up to some of the NBA owners.

The point is this: One man cannot come into our town and try to swipe a historical and significant piece of our cultural landscape without a historic and significant fight ensuing. This is our town, our team, our memories, our hopes. Don't lose that hope, because this fight is just beginning.

Brian Robinson, a lifelong Seattle resident, is co-founder of Save Our Sonics, www.saveoursonics.org

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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