NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Front-runners emerge in ownership of Hawks — The Atlanta Hawks were officially put up for sale on Jan. 8 and, for the first time since then, there appears to be some movement on what’s next for the team. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that two groups are considered finalists, while another group has pulled itself out of the running:
Two front-runners for ownership of the Hawks are emerging as the lengthy process to sell the franchise and Philips Arena continues into its seventh month.
There is a deadline of April 10 for final bids. However, that date could be moved, as one or more bids are still being considered.
Several people with knowledge of the situation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that two groups are considered finalists. Current Hawks ownership and prospective buyers have signed non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from speaking publicly on the sales process.
One leading group is led by Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan, who is joined by Indonesian billionaires Erick Thohir and Handy Poernomo and former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. Braves great Hank Aaron also has been associated with the group.
The other leading group is led by Lionsgate Entertainment’s Mark Rachesky, who is joined by New York investment banker Steve Starker. Jesse Itzler, who has done consulting work for the Hawks and attends many games, is also associated with the group. He is married to Spanx founder Sara Blakely.
At least one group considers itself out of the running after having no contact with the search firms for some time.
The entire process may take until June to complete. The sales process began in September when controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced his intention to sell his stake as part of a firestorm of controversy that engulfed the franchise.
“It’s amazing how long this has taken,” one person familiar with the situation said.
At least one of the prospective ownership groups has concerns with Philips Arena, according to a person familiar with the situation. The group feels the team’s practice facility is subpar and could be a hindrance in attracting free agents. The weight-room facilities also are considered below NBA standards, and the group has expressed a concern over the setup of the arena luxury boxes.