This article, titled "Sonics Defenders" was posted at www.SonicsCentral.com on June 27th, 2008 which proved to be just 5 days before the settlement when our team departed.
All SonicsCentral archives dating back to 2005 have now been converted to SonicsRising and SB Nation.
I am extremely proud to be included in a recent newspaper article by the Daily Oklahoman which identified a select group of Seattle residents as "The Sonics Defenders"
Among this group were Mayor Greg Nickels, Starbucks CEO Howard Schutlz, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, noted Seattle trial attorney Richard Yarmuth, and former Senator Slade Gorton. Lofty company for an unknown kid from Shoreline.
One of the most difficult parts of sitting through the last week of court proceedings(and trust me, there have been difficult times) has been listening to the constant criticism of Senator Gorton, one of our communities greatest leaders, savior of the Mariners who also provided a huge assist saving the Seahawks, and one of only ten people in America chosen to lead the 9/11 commission and investigate our contries biggest tragedy.
This criticism begins with the slick stylings of PBC attorney Brad Keller. Kellers brilliant but transperent courtroom stylings have painted Gorton and former Sonics president Wally Walker as devious co-conspirators, determined to bleed the PBC dry and making the immoral decision to work against our home team rather than with them. Keller would have you believe that Gorton and Walker sacrificed their ethics and the cities credibility to pursue a cloak and dagger vendetta, sabotaging any chance for an equitable solution and poisoning the well for Bennett and company here in Seattle.
Sadly Kellers words have taken seed in the local media and been believed by a large number of local residents. If the unthinkable happens and the city loses this case many will point to Gortons actions as the deciding factor and blast his decisions and involvement.
That is not fair.
Searching for an analogy I came up with a rather simple one. Imagining that an NBA player, in game 7 of the NBA finals finds himself all alone under the basket with his team down by 3 and 2 seconds left on the game clock. The player passes the ball out for a desperation 3 pointer and the next day is lambasted in the paper for not taking the open shot.
2 points still loses the game.
Gorton and Walker made some mistakes. Gortons decision to reveal via e-mail a private meeting with the NBA clearly points to some level of impropriety. Additionally their use of offensive terminoligy such as "bleeding" paints a picture that is much worse than reality and which Brad Keller has capitalized on for his extremely dramatic presentation.
As someone who frankly has been involved in this to a great extent I find myself needing to defend the "Sonics Defenders" in terms of both their actions and their ethics.
Gorton is one of the wonderful and rare people in this world who posesses the confidence to attempt impossible feats, shoulder enormous responsibilities, and deal with the judgements of people around him. He is a big time shotmaker unafraid to shoulder the load when the spotlight is on him. Late in career he is no longer a dynamic star but a resolved and grizzled veteran. In basketball terms he is Robert "Big Shot Bob" Horry, he is Rex Chapman, he is the guy who will take that last shot and miss it with no regrets, knowing that make or miss the shot had to be taken.
What Brad Keller conveniently overlooks is that as early as May it became obvious to all involved that Seattle was not being subjected to a typical lease dispute and potential move. The PBC and to an as yet undetermined extent the NBA as a whole was implementing an aggressive and coordinated plan to strip our fans of their interest and our region of our team. They were playing dirty, lying, scheming, and in every way attacking us.
Gorton reacted defensively.
For all the complaints regarding a "Machiavellian Scheme" the most the PBC can argue is that Gorton and Walker a) encouraged the city to exercise their legal right in enforcing the lease, b) worked hard to assemble a group of local buyers and an arena solution, and c) violated a generic non-disclosure agreement.
Nowhere is there evidence that these people, acting independantly or on behalf of the city took any action which was illegal or unethical. They did not call sponsors and encourage them to drop their sponsorship. They did not behind the scenes encourage fan boycotts or seek to strip revenue from the club. They attempted to extend the negotiation period and give the PBC some downside to an early move decision. If you believe the PBC Clay Bennett was justified in lying to our state legislature but the city abdicated all rights when Gorton violated a non-disclosure contract. This action was wrong, but certainly no more wrong than the dealings of the other side and certainly not a defining factor in this case.
In all of my dealings with the city and K&L Gates it has been made clear to me that the city was focused on the enforcement of the existing lease and Senator Gorton had a secondary goal which he was working on independantly and without contract to retain basketball long term. I do not say that there was an implied distinction. There was a very clear and defining line which was pointed out when it was crossed and appropriately drawn by both the city and their firm.
I do not believe that the judge will be fooled by the smoke and mirrors smear campaign that Brad Keller waged. While it was dramatic it contained very little basis in law. In the end it came down to a prolonged character attack on undeserving citizens, an attempt to stretch that poor character as a legal breach of contract, and a further attempt to somehow link these individuals to the governments official position as a landlord. Next Wednesday at 4pm we will find the fate of our team.
Over the last year it has become apperant that the other side, the NBA and the PBC are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to accomplish their goal of moving this franchise. They will spend huge sums of money, have burnt up huge chunks of their repuation, and simply are not bargaining in good faith. While some observers may question the tactics and extent which local leaders will go to retain this team I cannot understate how proud I am to have had a limited association with these people. I am proud to be Sonics defender along with Walker and Gorton and I am disheartened that the media seems so quick to point the finger at these two gentlemen who have fought a determined battle against a despicable foe. Not every event in this story has gone reported and nothing has been clean or easy. Someday, if we win this battle, the stories of the backroom brawls that have taken place in the "battle for Seattle" will become the stuff of legends. Until then I hope that the public can resist the urge to be fooled by the theatrics of Keller. Gorton and Walker do not deserve criticism or blame in this matter. Much like the legendary battle Xavier McDaniel VS Dale Ellis Clay Bennett threw the first sucker punch and the city simply fought back.