HANG TIME BIG CITY — After a tumultuous offseason and a brilliant start to the season, the Atlanta Hawks are now officially for sale, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore.
This news would seem to provide a path for a clean resolution to what has frequently been a complicated ownership situation. The Hawks are currently collectively owned by several groups, based in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York.
News of the Hawks being for sale first surfaced in September, when majority owner Bruce Levenson announced he would sell his stake in the team after sending a racially insensitive email to GM Danny Ferry two years earlier. The Levenson news came just days before the revelation that Ferry had made a racist statement on a conference call with the ownership group. Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence before the season began, and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer assumed responsibility for basketball operations.
According to Vivlamore, the groups within the ownership group are now able to sell the entire franchise to whomever the new owner or owners will be. Writes Vivlamore:
The Washington-based group, led by controlling owner Bruce Levenson, announced in September that it would sell its 50.1 stake following the discovery of a racially inflammatory email that rocked the franchise. An independent investigation discovered an e-mail Levenson wrote in 2012 that included racist remarks about the fan base and game operations. Levenson’s partners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are also stakeholders in the original group known as the Atlanta Spirit.
Agreements are also in place for the Atlanta-based group of Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner to sell its stake. The group owned a combined 32.3 percent of the franchise. In addition, the New York-based group, led by Steven Price, has agreed to sell its 17.6 percent stake.
The sale process has been on-going since September as the ownership groups worked on how much of the franchise would be made available of an organization with a tarnished image.
The team will be officially on the market next week, according to a league source. The Hawks have retained investment banking firm Goldman Sachs and Inner Circle Sports to handle the sale process. The firm will gather and vetting prospective buyers.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the franchise, the Hawks have begun the season 23-8 and are in second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks current ownership group, formerly known as Atlanta Spirit, purchased the Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena in 2004 from Turner Broadcasting. Within a year, a disagreement over a contract offer to free agent Joe Johnson devolved into a lawsuit between members of the group, with original member Steve Belkin eventually agreeing to sell his share. There were various reports through the years that the group was looking for outside investments, and in 2011 they sold the Thrashers to a group based in Winnipeg.
Also in 2011, they announced that they had reached an agreement to sell majority ownership in the Hawks to real estate developer and pizza magnate Alex Meruelo, who would have become the NBA’s first Hispanic owner. That deal eventually fell through due to reported financial concerns with Meruelo, and Atlanta Spirit announced the Hawks were no longer for sale.
In response to Vivlamore’s report, the Hawks told him in a statement: