If the NBA Returns to Seattle, Can the Team Still Be Called the Sonics?

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The short answer is yes, the long answer is it's complicated.

When the Sonics left town in 2008, former Mayor Greg Nickels and city council president Richard Conlin signed a settlement agreement with the team's new owner Clay Bennett that divvied up the team's assets, and naming rights. This document essentially finalized the divorce, and, like many marriages that end bitterly, it wasn't a clean split.

The championship banners and trophies stayed in Seattle at the Museum of History and Industry, while most of the equipment was shipped to Oklahoma City. (In addition to a basketball team, Bennett's haul reportedly included 150 courtside seats, 24 office chairs, three televisions, 200 CDs, a sound-effects machine, a basketball inflater, radios, headphones, and a replay monitor.) The Sonics name and history, however, received joint custody.

Technically, the rights to the name "Seattle SuperSonics" and their old logos belong solely to Bennett. But he promised not to use them in Oklahoma City, and agreed to turn them over to the new team's owner (presumably Chris Hansen) at no cost, as long as it meets with NBA approval. Hansen is a diehard Sonics fan, so its likely he would ask permission to bring back the name. And, since David Stern already screwed the city once, it's hard to imagine the commish saying no.

During yesterday's press conference at City Hall, Mayor Mike McGinn was asked whether a new team could and/or should resurrect the Sonics brand. "You're getting way ahead of the game, here," he cautioned. But then he added, "Yes, absolutely it should be called the Sonics."

The Sonics stats, meanwhile, are currently part of what's termed a "shared history" in the settlement agreement. That means that the Sonics records still stand, but totals for Thunder players are added to the mix as well. When, for instance, Kevin Durant scored more than 30 points in seven-consecutive games in 2009, that was considered a Sonics/Thunder franchise record. If Seattle gets a new team, they too would lay claim to the old stats, which has the potential to be thoroughly confusing for record-keepers and announcers.

Jason Reid, director of the Sonicsgate documentary, points out that it would likely bolster Seattle's case to reclaim the stats and history if the new team becomes the Sonics.

"We want to fight to get our history back from Oklahoma, and we stand a lot better chance if the team is called the Sonics," Reid says. "Plus I want to be able to wear green and gold. I don't want the Seattle Kings, or Hornets, or Bears, or whatever. I think most people would agree."


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