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Originally published Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Schultz withdraws lawsuit on sale of Sonics

Howard Schultz sent a letter to his former Sonics' ownership group to say he has decided to withdraw his lawsuit against Clayton Bennett over the sale of the team.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Howard Schultz has withdrawn his lawsuit and efforts to rescind his 2006 sale of the Sonics to an Oklahoma group headed by Clay Bennett.

"We are part of a disappointing history that has unfolded," Schultz wrote in a letter to the former ownership group in Seattle. "... I feel accountable for accepting their [Oklahoma buyers'] assurances at the time. Assurances I now know to be dishonest. I regret that I accepted those assurances and am deeply sorry for the outcome.

"Unfortunately, showing that the Bennett Group lied is not enough to turn back the clock and return the Sonics. As a result, I am withdrawing our lawsuit."

Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said the city had always remained neutral about the Schultz lawsuit and didn't want to comment on whether it ever had a chance to succeed.

However, Carr said that the failure of the lawsuit makes it clear that an arena deal is still the key to getting an NBA team back in Seattle.

"The key is what the Legislature does now," Carr said.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has said he will push the State Legislature to authorize Seattle or King County taxes to pay for a KeyArena renovation. A legislative task force has been meeting to look at such requests, but many other groups are also lining up to seek funding for projects ranging from a Husky Stadium renovation to Puget Sound cleanup.

In Oklahoma, Bennet, said through a spokesman: "We are pleased to now be able to move on. We look forward to an exciting future of NBA basketball in Oklahoma City ."

Schultz sold the Sonics to Bennett for $350 million. He purchased it in 2001 for $200 million from the Ackerley Group.

Bennett secured a release from his KeyArena lease in June with a $45 million buyout. Four moving vans arrived in Oklahoma City Friday morning, unloading basketball equipment. The team will officially announce its new name Sept. 3. Reportedly it will be called the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Schultz said his efforts were confounded when Judge Marsha Pechman ruled recently in U.S. District Court that the NBA could intervene in the suit. It was the second setback for Schultz, who also had tried to split the suit into two phases: one on the question of whether fraud had been committed in the sale; the second on the remedy.

"Unfortunately, we lost on both fronts," Schultz wrote. "Allowing the NBA to intervene negatively impacts our case, increasing the complexity and framing the issues in the litigation on the terms of the Bennett Group and the NBA.

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"As a result of these developments, our legal team and I no longer believe we can be successful in this litigation."

Schultz filed the suit in mid-April. He withdrew it officially on Friday afternoon, just before the three-day holiday weekend.

Bennett, who purchased the NBA's Sonics and the WNBA's Storm from the Schultz group in 2006, sold the Storm to a group of four local businesswomen in February called Force 10 Hoops.

The NBA had no comment on the action today by Schultz.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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