Jim Brunner goes over the thinking which led to a settlement of the Sonics case just hours before the scheduled decision at trial. I agree with the thesis of the article, and the approach of Seattle's attorneys in settling the case. The horse had left the barn, and paving the way for a return of the NBA a few years hence was a better option than two lame duck years in KeyArena, which was all that could have been won at trial.
This article on the case contains some interesting trivia for a bar bet. Who owns "the Sonics?" Well, Clay Bennett is choosing a new name for the franchise, and Seattle would like to revive "the Sonics" name if they can acquire another NBA franchise. But the name itself belongs to the NBA:
City attorney Tom Carr said the city and Bennett's attorneys had rushed to complete the settlement on Wednesday, a few hours before District Court Judge Marsha Pechman would have delivered her ruling in the trial between the city and the Sonics....
"It was a condition of the deal for us that we keep the history, the name, the logo and the memorabilia," Carr said. "That was a demand from Day 1. To that extent, the paragraph was put in at our insistence. It got changed a lot in the end."
During negotiations, both parties learned the NBA owns the names and intellectual properties of teams and licenses them to owners. The league prohibits owners from giving away their team's names to anyone other than another owner.
The NBA also didn't want a team playing in Oklahoma City without a past history.
"I'm not happy with any of this," Carr said. "I would prefer that the Sonics stay here, but in terms of a compromise, I think it gets us what we wanted. We had a big fight over leaving the memorabilia. They didn't want to do that."
Offhand, the main reason I can think of for the NBA to own the team names and license them back to franchisees is to limit the potential for a breakaway league. Do the other American sports leagues have the same policy? Somehow, I think the Yankees would refuse to let their name become the property of Major League Baseball, but I don't know the rules, and they could be outvoted.