In August, pizza magnate and general businessy guy Alex Meruelo agreed to terms with the Atlanta Spirit ownership group to buy the Atlanta Hawks. It was a huge moment for fans of the franchise, to the point where newspaper columnists wrote pieces celebrating Meruelo if only because he wasn't part of Atlanta Spirit. There's been enough incompetence and infighting from that group to send their NHL team to Winnipeg, and the Hawks haven't fared much better.
Last week, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that a liquidity issue could hold up the sale. Now things have gotten even worse. As announced by Atlanta Spirit today, the sale is off with no plans to put the team back on the market. Here's the Associated Press report:
The Hawks' ownership group, headed by Bruce Levenson andMichael Gearon Jr., said Friday that the agreement for Meruelo to buy the team had been mutually terminated by both sides. Just last week, there were reports the NBA was delaying approval of sale because of concerns about Meruelo's finances, though he insisted he had enough money to purchase the team and run it in a first-class manner..
Meruelo, the son of Cuban immigrants, was poised to become the NBA's first Hispanic team owner and acquire operating rights to Philips Arena, with Levenson and Gearon remaining in a minority role.
Instead, the group known as Atlanta Spirit will remain in charge of the team it has owned since 2004, when it acquired the Hawks and the NHL Thrashers from Time Warner. The group stepped in after a proposed deal with Dallas businessman David McDavid fell through.
"The Atlanta Hawks are no longer for sale," Levenson said in a statement issued by the Hawks. "We're excited to remain as owners of the Hawks and are committed to building on our string of four straight playoff appearances."
This is horrible news for Hawks fans, especially because they had their hopes raised over the past few months. As a Warriors fan, I know the joy that can come when new owners emerge after many years of indifferent and incompetent stewardship. But I can't even begin to imagine what it feels like for that optimism to be ripped away.
The good news for Atlanta is that the group's decision to take the team off the market may be related to the lockout, if only because it's hard to convince a potential buyer a team is a good investment when the financial future of the league is up in the air. There are still reasons for hope. It's just that the positive outcome looks a lot farther away then it did two weeks ago.