NBA wants to intervene in Sonics lawsuit


The NBA wants to intervene in former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz's bid to regain control of the team, claiming it would interfere with the stable operation of the franchise.

Schultz is trying to reverse his 2006 sale of the NBA franchise to Clay Bennett, claiming the Oklahoma City businessman failed to follow through on a promise to negotiate in good faith to keep the team in Seattle.

The league filed a motion Tuesday to intervene in Schultz's lawsuit in Seattle's federal court. It asks for the chance to present oral arguments in the case, which has not yet been scheduled for a trial.

"The process for approving new owners is critically important to the success and long-term stability of the NBA, as it ensures that the proposed owner will conduct the operations of the team only in conformity with the rules and regulations of the league and will possess the economic resources and managerial skills to the successful operation of a member of the NBA," Richard W. Buchanan, the league's vice president and general counsel, wrote in a court filing to support the motion.

Schultz owned the team from 2001 to July 2006, when he sold it along with the WNBA's Storm to Bennett for $350 million.

Last week, Bennett announced he had reached a settlement with the city of Seattle and would pay up to $75 million to allow the team to move to Oklahoma City.

That agreement included a clause that the deal would be broken and the team would return to Seattle if Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks Corp., were to prevail in the lawsuit, filed April 22.

An assistant to Richard Yarmuth, Schultz's attorney, declined comment.

Bennett has called Schultz's lawsuit "baseless" and without merit.

The NBA claims in its motion that the transfer of the franchise to a court-appointed receiver and a subsequent transfer back to Schultz would both be prohibited by the league's constitution.

The motion also claims that if a court-appointed receiver were to be appointed, the NBA's constitution allows for the league's owners to put that team "under the management and control" of commissioner David Stern.

"The relief requested by plaintiffs is entirely inconsistent with these reasonable and lawful regulations of the NBA, and the disposition of this action therefore threatens the ability of the League to protect its justifiable interests," attorney Ralph Palumbo wrote in the motion.

The NBA also attached copies of a release signed by members of Schultz's ownership group as part of the league's approval of the 2006 sale that prevented the former owners from suing Bennett's Professional Basketball Club ownership group.

Another exhibit was an excerpt from the NBA's constitution that outlines the league's procedures for transferring control of a team.

"These claims for relief are fundamentally inconsistent with the most basic rules and regulations governing the operations of the NBA and its member teams, which do not permit ownership transfers without the express approval of the NBA," attorney Ralph Palumbo wrote in his motion filed on the NBA's behalf.

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