Only in the tangled realm of the Atlanta Spirit can a no-decision be deemed a rousing victory for one side, but that’s what this is. The Atlanta/D.C. connection — essentially the Gearons and Bruce Levenson — cannot proceed with the proposed buyout of the battling Bostonian Steve Belkin, and somehow that’s better for the party of the first part. (If this sounds like a Marx Brothers movie … well, it should.)
Much has changed between 2005, when this jerry-built partnership splintered over Joe Johnson, and August 2009. The economy has gone so far south that even wealthy men have lost real money, and the idea of not having to put up more cash — $145 million plus interest — to get rid of Belkin must seem mighty appealing to the seven other Spirit men right about now.
With Belkin long since removed as the Spirit’s representative on the NBA’s board of governors, there’s no pressing call to sign divorce papers. The Atlanta/D.C. bunch can simply continue to do as it did on Joe Johnson, meaning outvote him 2-1. Yes, it’s weird to have an ownership so disconnected it has to be seated on separate sides of an opponent’s arena (as happened during the 2008 playoffs in Boston), but it’s no worse than forcing these owners to show up in a Maryland court to give periodic testimony.
If Belkin still wants out, he’ll have to take much less than $145 million plus interest. If he wants to stick around and be outvoted on every essential matter, the other partners won’t mind as long as he’s paying his share of the bills. It’s not as if they run into him at the Blue Ridge Grill. (Michael Gearon Jr. and Arthur M. Blank have standing tables at that eatery, but not Steve Belkin.)
Against the odds, the Spirit has shown it can move forward while being torn litigiously asunder. The Hawks had a very good season and an even better summer. The Thrashers are showing signs of stirring. This partnership fits no earthly notion of a model, but as long as the teams are spending money and trying to win, do we really care?
And here’s the key part: With no ongoing court case — Belkin can appeal this decision, but he isn’t apt to win — the Spirit can look beyond the next deposition. Rumors have circulated for months that the Spirit might sell the Thrashers (while keeping the Hawks), but nobody could do anything while the Maryland decision was pending.
That could well be the best thing for Atlanta sports fans. It’s no secret that, with the exception of Levenson, the Spirit has always cared more about basketball. If the group could find a suitable local buyer, I doubt Blueland would revolt. (General manager Don Waddell insists existing agreements would preclude the Thrashers from being moved.)
In this economic climate, the trick would be in finding a buyer. But that’s another matter for another day. Unless …
Didn’t Roddy White just come into a sum of money? Think he’d like a hockey team?