The Atlanta Hawks are officially, 100 percent for sale

Kyle Korver can't wait to see the bids roll in. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)
Kyle Korver can't wait to see the bids roll in. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)

So ... anybody want to buy the best team in the Eastern Conference?

Four months after scandals surrounding racially insensitive scouting reports, fan-stereotyping emails and renewed rounds of palace-intrigue infighting threw their front office and ownership structure into upheaval, the Atlanta Hawks are now officially for sale. And now just part of the franchise — the whole kit and kaboodle.

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Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that all three of the ownership groups with a stake in the Hawks — the Washington, D.C.-based Atlanta Hawks LLC led by Bruce Levenson and Ed Peskowitz, which controls 50.1 percent of the organization; an Atlanta-based group led by Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner that owns 32.3 percent of the team; and a New York-based faction led by Steven Price with a 17.6 percent piece — had reached agreements to sell off their full holdings in the franchise, and that those agreements had been approved by the NBA. Seydel initially disputed the "everybody's selling" report, but apparently any disagreements had been ironed out by Thursday, when the team issued the following statement:

“The Atlanta Hawks today announced that its owners have unanimously approved a plan to sell the franchise and the Philips Arena operating rights. The sale will commence immediately. Atlanta Hawks Basketball and Entertainment, LLC has retained Goldman Sachs & Co. and Inner Circle Sports LLC to advise on the sale of the franchise and ancillary assets.”

The decision to divest fully comes some four months after Levenson expressed his intention to sell his stake in the Hawks following the revelation of an August 2012 email he wrote to general manager Danny Ferry in which he theorized that "the black crowd [at Philips Arena] scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant [sic] [enough] season ticket base" to support the team. He also wrote about prior complaints to Atlanta's game operations staff about wanting "some white cheerleaders," wanting music played in the arena "to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that's our season tixs [sic] demo[graphic]," and wanting more non-black fans picked out of the stands to participate in shooting contests during timeouts, among other things: "I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black."

Some reports suggest Levenson was considering selling his share before the controversy erupted, raising the possibility that his alleged "self-reporting" of the email was not only a sign of the post-Donald Sterling-era times, but also indicative of a belief that, with franchise valuations skyrocketing, this would be as good a time as ever to cash out his investment.

Levenson's 2012 email came to light as part of an internal investigation into a reference made by Ferry to forward Luol Deng as "having some African in him" during a conference call with ownership and management about prospective free-agent targets, a reference apparently intended to conflate something about Deng with African merchants who sell counterfeit goods. That investigation was reportedly triggered by minority partner Gearon Jr., who wrote a letter pressuring Levenson "to ask for Ferry's resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause," perhaps with an eye on carving out a larger place for himself in the Hawks' decision-making structure. Ferry asked for and was granted an indefinite leave of absence as the franchise picked through the fallout.

Dominique Wilkins has expressed interest in buying into the Hawks. Pero Antic is intrigued. (AP/David Goldman)
Dominique Wilkins has expressed interest in buying into the Hawks. Pero Antic is intrigued. (AP/David Goldman)

The revelation of Ferry's comments, Levenson's email and Levenson's subsequent decision to move his stake, brought a slew of folks interested in buying a piece of the Hawks out into the public eye. Hall of Famer and Hawks current vice president of basketball operations/color commentator Dominique Wilkins has said he wants in, as have fellow Hawks great Dikembe Mutombo and All-Star-turned-Turner Sports broadcaster Chris Webber.

Entertainment industry attorney Doug Davis, the son of legendary record producer Clive Davis, has also been connected with an ownership bid, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in mid-September he had already heard from no fewer than a half-dozen prospective buyers.

Vivlamore of the Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that a number of other potential bidders had expressed interest in the Hawks, including Jason Levien, the former Memphis Grizzlies CEO who was ousted this past spring in that team's front-office shakeup; former Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, who last made headlines for admitting he tried to tank while working in Canada; and former All-Star-turned-Turner Sports personality Grant Hill, whose name also briefly came up in connection with a run at the Los Angeles Clippers that fell short when former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer blew everybody out of the water with a $2 billion bid that earned him the right to, among other things, dance however the heck he pleases.

Nobody's expecting the Hawks to fetch anything near the $2 billion that Ballmer shelled out for the Clippers, although in this age of franchise valuations and purchase prices that consistently outstrip projections — remember, the Sacramento Kings went for more than $534 million in May 2013, and the Milwaukee Bucks went for $550 million this past April — it wouldn't necessarily be surprising to see a monster figure carry the day. Forbes valued the franchise at $425 million in January 2014, but that was before the Bucks and Clippers; now, Vivlamore cites estimates north of $600 million for the franchise and Philips Arena.

Any individual or group interested in buying the Hawks will have to apply for membership to the NBA and submit their bid to investigation and vetting by the NBA and the firms (Goldman Sachs and Inner Circle Sports) retained to aid in the sale, and must receive backing from at least three-fourths of the other NBA owners for the purchase to be finalized, as laid out in the league's constitution and by-laws. The process of soliciting bids is expected to take several months, with the AJC pointing toward April as "a possible target date to finalize an agreement." If the Hawks keep up their current torrid pace — they beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday to notch their sixth straight win overall, and their ninth straight over the Western Conference, to improve their East-leading record to 27-8 — Atlanta could be celebrating new ownership right around the start of a home-court-advantage-fueled playoff run aimed at the franchise's first championship since they were the St. Louis Hawks. But that's getting ahead of ourselves (on a couple of levels). For now, we wait to see which big spenders want to make their bid to begin a brand new era in the ATL.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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