New owners. New hope?
After killing a hockey franchise and providing Atlanta with one of the worst ownership tenures in (semi-)professional sports history, the former partners of the Atlanta Spirit have agreed to sell the Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena to Antony Ressler, a co-founder of two private equity firms and minority of the Milwaukee Brewers.
He’s also billionaire, but that was pretty much a given.
Nobody knows if Ressler will be a great owner. We can only safely assume he won’t be the clown show that his predecessors were. Even when the Spirit partners did something right by hiring Danny Ferry as general manager, they managed to have that decision unravel into a national embarrassment: The regrettable Ferry scouting call, the Levenson race-infused email, the ensuing indefinite “leave of absence” (wink, wink) by Ferry and sudden decision to sell (wink, wink) by Levenson.
The sale price reportedly is $800 million. Hawks’ executives hoped the team would sell for more than $1 billion. They’ll live.
Ressler’s arrival should be cause for celebration in Atlanta sports.
Only two obstacles stand in the way that:
• Final approval: We were down this road before with California developer and pizza boy Alex Meruelo, who thought he had a deal for the Hawks in October of 2011. Then it turned out Meruelo didn’t have enough money. That can be a problem in pro sports league, except possibly the NHL.
• The Gearon Factor: According to Chris Vivlamore’s story, Michael Gearon Jr. will retain a minority stake in the team. This can’t be good, unless he is tied in a corner with his mouth duct-taped shut.
Now, it’s certainly possible that in a group including Ressler (billionaire), former NBA star Grant Hill (high profile, high character, potential face of ownership), Marquis Jets co-founder Jesse Itzler and his wife, Spanxx founder Sara Blakely, Gearon will be mere a speck on the spreadsheet.
But could there possibly be a louder and more intrusive speck?
The issue here is Ferry? I’ve never had a strong sense the Hawks will bring him back. Hill’s presence, as another former Duke player, could bode well for Ferry.
But if the Hawks decide to keep Ferry, how would Gearon feel about it? Would he make noise again, as he did when a member of the Levenson group tried to orchestrate Ferry’s return this season?
Gearon’s presence is the lone fly-in-the-ointment in this thing. Otherwise, there’s no reason to believe Atlanta can’t officially move on from one of the ugliest and most painful chapters in the city’s sports’ history. And the angels sing.
There will only be a black hole where an NHL team used to exist.
•Some recent ramblings from the digital jukebox — AJC: Poll: Should Falcons pursue Adrian Peterson, Randy Gregory? — MyAJC: Falcons’ risk-reward scale may tip in new direction — AJC: Budenholzer wins coaching honor, and it shouldn’t have been close — AJC: Millsap, Sefolosha, Horford — what’s going on with Hawks? — MyAJC: Hawks need a better Millsap for long playoff run — MyAJC: Budenholzer knows what playoff success is all about — MyAJC: Hawks hoping to leave Atlanta playoff wreckage behind — AJC: Hawks lose lottery pick but get better playoff match-up: Nets — MyAJC: Jordan Spieth: Perfect champion, perfect story — AJC: Masters short takes: Spieth’s first major won’t be his last — MyAJC: It’s a Masters Sunday, and here comes old Phil Mickelson — AJC: Masters short takes: Spieth hopes to avoid Norman flashback — MyAJC: Jordan Spieth toying with Augusta, Masters’ field — MyAJC: Woods is back, or he’s not, or he is, or he’s not… — MyAJC: On eve of final Masters, Ben Crenshaw embracing every moment — MyAJC: Woods loose, confident, but is he really ready for Masters — MyAJC: Braves stop the noise with opening victory — AJC: Short takes: Small ball, Teheran, bullpen and a Braves’ win — AJC: Braves’ deal saves budget (Upton) but drives nail in season (Kimbrel) — MyAJC: Trade reaffirms Braves’ decision to go backward before forward — MyAJC: With expectations low, at least Braves won’t underachieve — AJC: Hawks’ biggest nightmare: Millsap suffers shoulder injury — MyAJC: Hawks’ turnaround started with trade of Joe Johnson — and he knows it