Looking Back at The City of Seattle's Decision To Settle With Clay Bennett Over the Key Arena Lease

Greg Nickles decision to accept the $45 million settlement from Clay Bennett-in 2008-is one of the most controversial/upsetting decisions in the Sonics's 41 year history. It sealed the teams relocation to Oklahoma City, and put us (and in a way, Sacramento) in the position we are today. The decision also seems even worse when you consider what happened to Aubrey McClendon's finances after the stock market crashed; the rallying cry up here has become, "What if we had had those two years?"

Hindsight is 20/20, and that is something that us fans need to keep in mind. Basically what I am trying to say is that Greg Nickles and the City of Seattle's legal counsel didn't know that the stock market was going to crash, and that as a result Clay Bennett's "whale" would take a $2 billion hit because of if it. All the City of Seattle knew is this;

  • David Stern had publicly stated that if the Sonics were leaving; whether it was 2008 or didn't matter
"There's not going to be a new arena. There's not going to be a public contribution and that's everyone's right. I mean that sincerely," Stern said. "So the only question now becomes, is the court going to rule that you can fulfill the terms of the lease by paying money for the remaining two years after this? Or, despite everything, there is some reason to keep them there as the clock winds down."- ESPN
  • That there was $45 million in outstanding debt on the 1995 Key Arena renovation.
  • That attendance had continued to plummet as Clay Bennett gutted the Sonics roster; thus making it harder for the City to pay off the debts and the team to make money-both of which were dependent on revenue generated at the Key.
  • That the City still had to find a way to construct an arena that was I-91 compliant, and no one [at the time] seemed willing to step forward and do that.

There was a lot of risk involved for the City going into this lawsuit. If they had won, they have lame duck franchise going through the motions in their final two years of the lease; or if they had lost, they have would have sunk tax payer funds into a losing battle AND lost out on the only way to pay off the existing debts on Key Arena.
In other words, the City of Seattle was stuck in a difficult situation. A situation that didn't have an easy out that would make everybody happy.

The City took the easy way out, they made the smartest financial decision that they could make with the information they had. Greg Nickles got Clay Bennett to pay off the outstanding debt on the Key Arena renovation, and took that off of the financial risk off of the Cities shoulders. It finished off a train of destruction that Howard Schultz had started when he bought the team in 2001; it was a decision that cost us the Sonics.

FanPosts are written by members of the Sonics Rising community and do not represent the opinion of site management.

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