(Updated at 5:45 p.m.)
The only thing worse than bad ownership in professional sports is uncertain ownership. We have been cursed with both.
The sale of the Hawks from the Atlanta Spirit to Alex Meruelo has gone from in danger of falling apart to officially dead. Our Tim Tucker reports that the deal was terminated by mutual agreement.
This is what it means to you: There is nobody minding the office. Not Meruelo, who presumably never had the funding and/or wouldn’t provide the financial guarantees as laid out by the NBA to purchase a franchise, his claims to the contrary not withstanding. His purchase was announced Aug. 7. The dissolution of deal was revealed 89 days later on Nov. 4. This lasted only slightly
longer than a Kim Kardashian marriage (72 days) — the only problem being that most consider this closer to real life.
Not the Atlanta Spirit. They weaseled out of NHL ownership and sent the Thrashers to Winnipeg, and now they’re looking to liquidate themselves of the Hawks and Philips Arena’s operating rights so they can get out of the sports business.
Not even Hawks’ employees, who aren’t in a position to make decisions because they don’t know who their boss is or what
their boss wants.
One of the Spirit’s partners, Bruce Levenson, released a statement, saying: “The Atlanta Hawks are no longer for sale. We’re excited to remain as owners of the Hawks and are committed to building on our string of four straight playoff appearances.”
And why shouldn’t we believe Levenson? Doesn’t he always speak the truth?
(Pause for effect.)
And if you were trying to sell a property, wouldn’t you be “excited” when that deal fell apart?
The Spirit basically has gone from bad ownership to relative absentee ownership because their primary objective now is to sell the team, not improve it.
Granted, the NBA is in a lockout, and there is no sign of that ending any time soon. The league already has canceled a month’s worth of games. In that sense, a case could be made that the Hawks haven’t lost any ground during this expanded offseason. But other NBA teams can at least look at their roster, their payroll and their coaching staff and plan for the future. They can prepare themselves for next season under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Hawks? Well, imagine that you owned a team and you were looking to sell it. Your focus would be on finding a buyer, cutting overhead and maybe dusting the office furniture and vacuuming the rugs for any interested party who wanted to give the place the once over. It certainly wouldn’t be in investing time, money and resources to improve the product or cater to the fan base.
The problems created by Meruelo’s exit are compounded by a depressed economy, one that is thin on potential sports owners and ownership groups. It follows that Levenson, Michael Gearon, et. al. likely will continue in the executive suite for sometime. The Atlanta Spirit’s attempts to leave have become as big a headache as their attempt at sports ownership.
It’s the nightmare that won’t end.
By Jeff Schultz