The Atlanta Spirit case: No decision is bad news for Belkin

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?

45 comments Add your comment


August 17th, 2009
8:53 pm

I guess it makes sense…no change is good for the Hawks.

I am ready for basketball season!


August 17th, 2009
9:30 pm

You are gay!


August 17th, 2009
9:32 pm

What a crazy situation… Mark, have you or anyone at the AJC attempted to interview Belkin recently? Seems like he’s been the silent nemesis for years now. I assume that’s because of the ongoing litigation, but maybe now he’d be a little more willing to talk? (Perhaps the better question is, though, would we be interested in hearing anything he had to say?)

It seems like the Thrashers have been minimized– it’d probably be a good idea to split them off, maybe find a single, pure hockey owner to take over and imprint his own style and personality on the franchise.

Mark Bradley

August 17th, 2009
9:51 pm

I tried to talk with Belkin when I was in Boston for the playoffs last year. He declined via e-mail, albeit politely.


August 17th, 2009
9:53 pm

bunch of losers!!!


August 17th, 2009
9:55 pm

I hate all these guys. Just go away already.


August 17th, 2009
9:56 pm

Carpetbaggers, please just sell the team to an Atlantan or at least to someone who cares about winning and does not look at our teams as investments.


Mark Bradley

August 17th, 2009
9:58 pm

Let’s give the Spirit some credit. They could have lowballed every free agent this summer and wound up with nothing. Instead they kept Bibby, Marvin and Zaza, traded for Jamal Crawford and are close to getting Joe Smith. That’s a strong statement by a group of owners heretofore not known for making strong statements.

Ted Striker

August 17th, 2009
10:05 pm

A person owning single share of Bank of America stock ($16.56 stock price) has more IMMEDIATE LIQUIDITY in the investment — than Belkin’s entire 30% share of the Spirit.

If the court decision holds, the Spirit majority has use of Belkin’s remaining investment (whatever is left of it) forever and for free — unless he can find a third party to pony up.

Which is why I thought Arthur Blank’s agreement to sell minority shares in the Falcons to be brilliant. Yes, he’s giving up equity but he’s losing absolutely no control and he’s increasing his cash flow substantially.


August 17th, 2009
10:09 pm

Could be worse,they could be owning the Falcons.And the Braves.Ooops scratch the Braves part.Not much worse than Liberty Media.


August 17th, 2009
10:14 pm

I admit I have never been invited to one of their board meetings but it seems to me Spirit has decided that the Hawks have a better chance at success (i.e. profit) than the Thrashers.

So FINALLY after six years, they make an effort to build the Hawks and leave the Thrasher twisting in the wind.

I can’t give them any props until they consistently (meaning every year) try to improve both teams.


dos hawkquis

August 17th, 2009
10:26 pm

I am a season ticket holder and I am glad that there is some sort of resolution to the Spirit Group. However, I still am on Belkin’s side regarding the Joe Johnson trade. We did not HAVE to give up 2 first round picks for JJ. Phoenix’s hands were tied, all we had to do was call their bluff. I do it all the time in poker.

I wonder what our fate would have been had we gotten Joe, and not lost the 2 1st round picks. Who would we have taken then? How would our team look?

“I don’t always watch basketball, but when I do, I prefer the Hawks. Stay thirsty my friends!”

buckhead benny

August 17th, 2009
10:27 pm

I still think the real loser is Billy Knight- he could at least shake the man’s hand- I don’t care if you disagree or not- He was only the general manger not one of the owners. I think it was that bravado arrogance that ultimately led to his demise and ultimately out of the NBA-

I don’t think Billy Knight will have a job anytime soon in the NBA with regards to his personal behaviour and manners towards others-


August 17th, 2009
10:27 pm

Alsim – Have you actually paid attention to what’s going on with the Thrasher’s? The ownership, having admitted publicly that they basically sold their soul to get into the playoffs a few years ago, are making a serious effort to field a winning team… the right way. I never thought I’d defend those yahoos even just a little bit… but they’re not letting the Thashers “twist in the wind”. Now, let’s get Kovy signed and I’ll believe they actually want to own a hockey team!

"Chef" Tim Dix

August 17th, 2009
10:28 pm

Wouldn’t it be funny or poetic justice if Taylor Smith expressed interest in buying the Thrashers?


August 17th, 2009
10:39 pm

4 years and they’re back at square 1? lol.

The Thrashers, unfortunately, are going to be the ultimate losers in this, these guys can’t fund two clubs and it’s obvious they’re going with bball as their man focus.

Davan S. Mani

August 17th, 2009
10:54 pm

No mention of Ron Terwilliger, the owner of the Atlanta Dream.

Mr. Neutron

August 17th, 2009
10:55 pm

Mark, an interesting angle: you cite Waddell saying the Thrashers can’t be moved, but Sekou Smith’s main story on the case tonight says they can. (”Unlike the Hawks, the Thrashers are not tied to a 30-year bond payment-agreement for Philips Arena and could be moved.”) Either somebody’s wrong, somebody’s not telling the truth, or the rest of their contracts are as messed up as ASG’s ownership agreement.


August 17th, 2009
11:22 pm

as a season ticket holder, I do not mind any of these shenanigans as long it does not affect the hawks play on the court, or their ability to sign or re-sign players

Large in the Pants

August 17th, 2009
11:28 pm

The Thrashers “can’t” be moved based on the Philips naming rights contract.

Well, they could breach the contract and move the Thrashers, but ASG doesn’t want to lose those sponsorship funds.

Any chance Ron Terwilliger trades his ownership of the Dream for Belkin’s share of ASG, straight up? The Dream are playoff-bound, so Belkin would still get to own a successful basketball franchise.

happy fan

August 17th, 2009
11:41 pm

Congratulations to the Atlanta and DC groups for finally whipping Belkin’s ass in court. This is nothing but good for our franchises.

Mark Bradley

August 17th, 2009
11:46 pm

Don Waddell has said there are agreements in place to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. He has not specified what they are.

Wayne stuck in AL

August 17th, 2009
11:47 pm

So how is this good news again? Yes, Atlanta Spirit won’t have to pay the $130-150 million Belkin wanted for now, but they still have him in their little group to be disagreeable. And Belkin supposedly hasn’t kicked in money for Philips Arena improvements. Atlanta Spirit might actually be helped by this bad economy.

CHILDREN: if there is one thing to learn from this, two words: BINDING ARBITRATION!!!

Mark Bradley

August 17th, 2009
11:47 pm

And I have no idea as to Mr. Terwilliger’s intentions.


August 18th, 2009
12:06 am

Mark, please tell that since Arthur Blank has lost his indoor football team, he’s feeling the itch to own a team that plays the fastest and most exciting indoor sport in the world.

Please, God, tell me something good.

Tell me Ted is tired of raising Buffalo and wants to repurchase the Thrashers and hire Scotty Bowman to be his GM and win us a Stanley Cup (if Tampa and Carolina can do it, Atlanta should be able to).

Mark, all of this is really Ted’s fault when you think of it.

Why the hell did he include the Braves, Hawks, and Thrashers in with his deal with Time-Warner?

He didn’t need to do that to sell off TBS, TNT, and CNN.

What the heck was he thinking???


August 18th, 2009
12:19 am

I don’ t know why people rip on Liberty. They have been pretty good owners for the Braves. They have the payroll back above 100 million and gave the Braves the payroll to go and sign Lowe and bring in Vazquez. Plus with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman on the way the Braves are about to be very good, very fast. If they make the playoffs this year it’s just icing on the cake. 2010 and 2011 are going to be special years in Atlanta for the Braves.

As for the spirit, I just hope that they sell the Thrashers to someone who wants to keep them in Atlanta.

Eazy E

August 18th, 2009
12:26 am

Bugkiller-Would this be the same Arthur Blank who just sold 10% of his beloved Falcons to minority owners, or the Arthur Blank who withdrew his bid for an MLS franchise? Arthur has more a chance buying a Lowe’s store than a NHL franchise, even partially.

Mark-Don stated a few months back that there was an agreement between Spirit and the NHL saying they would have to keep in Atlanta for a specified number of years, but obviously wouldn’t reveal that number, otherwise he’d be hearing of some type of “countdown” from fans and the AJC forever.

Wayne stuck in AL

August 18th, 2009
12:30 am

In an interview sometime back, one of the Atlanta Spirit partners said they had someone lined up to take Belkin’s spot should he decide to sell, just by the process of elimination, would it by chance be the Dickey brothers?

Ted Striker

August 18th, 2009
1:14 am

Buckhead Benny: Agree with you on Knight. I can make nice with almost anyone if it’s good for business or furthers common decency.

ScottBravesFan: Don’t know why some folks rip Liberty Media either. After all, Liberty foots the bills, takes the risks, makes the monthly payroll. On the flip side, some fans criticizing Liberty have no investment in the Braves except for the electricity they use watching an occasional game. (Which they’d be using anyway watching reruns of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ or the latest installment of the Survivor franchise: ‘Survivor 27: Cleveland, Ohio.’)

Large in the Pants: Ron T. would jump on a trade of the Dream to Belkin for his 30% stake — in fact, he’d scamper to it like a rat on a cheeto. However, there’s no financial payback in such a deal for Belkin. The Dream is a long term losing proposition and while Belkin is behind the 8 ball presently, he at least has equity in an up and coming NBA franchise. If everyone else unloads it later, he gets paid too.

That said, I’d trade the Atlanta Dream for the (former) Atlanta Steam, just for the roster perks.


August 18th, 2009
6:48 am

well i will hav to give them some credit for some of the trades, but mostly the owners are the reason y we r losing. they are cheap, they won’t get a star player when we r like 30 somethin under our cap

belkin has been so silent lately


August 18th, 2009
7:08 am

Re: Thrashers relocation…Spirit has zero intention of selling off the operating rights to the arena – probably the one thing that is highly profitable every year (not that they’d ever let the public see those numbers). If they were to sell the Thrashers without a guarantee they’d remain not only in Atlanta but in Philips Arena, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot (and while they do have a habit of doing that, even this cluster isn’t that stupid). That’s 41 home games of revenue for the Arena in concession sales (there aren’t enough other events available to schedule to make up that revenue) not too mention new owners would be expected to make lease payments to Spirit as well. So even without owning the team directly, it’s in Spirit’s best interests for the Thrashers to stay.

squawks mcgrew

August 18th, 2009
7:16 am

If the Thrashers are available, guess it’s time to start buying lottery tickets and hope to hit the big one (or a bunch of little ones). Keep them right here, bring back the maroon sweaters, invite all former Atlanta Flames to be part of the family and place a replica Stanley Cup in every employee’s hand to remind them daily of our only goal.


August 18th, 2009
7:36 am

when they hired don waddell was the worst Move scotty bowman said he love been the GM here when started but they did want him cause he was askin for GM n president of team with full control..and we know the sprit people did not want so got a butt kisser don waddell stupid GM from detroit redwings u see why they won those cups it was when they rid a jerk to a lemon and we have a lemon GM


August 18th, 2009
7:56 am

Mark, Don Waddell saying anything is what is wrong with this organization. There are very few owners/ownerships that would allow someone to keep a job for that long with no success and no accountability. Yes you can say the Hawks look better but they looked horrible in the playoffs and took a step back, despite these player moves. The organization is there for one purpose: $$. They make it off the arena so as long as they keep fans fooled into thinking they are doing something, that is all they need, the concerts pay the ticket.


August 18th, 2009
7:58 am

It is always interesting when sports fades over to business. It is like the math department telling the English dept. how to run things. I think in the old days the press gave a little promotional help to the local team, now I have noticed the local press cops out to the fan right or wrong over copping out to the team, which somehow has become the bad guys in this era. Even the players get better press than the guys that bring us these teams. It is too steady a stream of criticism to be accurate and I think a lot of it is these guys and what they do is over all of our heads and we don’t want to admit it.


August 18th, 2009
8:15 am

What is Mr Terwilleger and his Dream Team? No, that should be who is Mr Terwilleger and what is the Dream? Help here, new names are appearing on my screen I am not familiar with. If he is a hockey guy, bring him on!


August 18th, 2009
8:58 am

Mark, or anyone, Does this mean Belkin will now have to resume funding 30% of all operating costs incurred by Atlanta Spirit, LLC? What about the four years where he, as I understand it, did not contribute to maintaining the teams and the arena? How can he still own his 30% if he hasn’t paid his dues, so to speak?


August 18th, 2009
9:12 am

Paddy – “What is Mr Terwilleger and his Dream Team?”

Ron Terwilliger owns (or is it formerly owned?) the Atlanta Dream, a WNBA team. I think he has some hockey background but I don’t know to what extent.


August 18th, 2009
9:36 am

What are the Thrashers? What is this “hockey” people are talking about and why should we care? Does Atlanta have a team? The Atlanta Dream??? Is this a soccer team? What the heck is the WNBA???


August 18th, 2009
11:08 am

It’s simply amazing to me that the NHL board of Governers haven’t piped in their opinion of this matter yet. I find it hard to believe that they fight so hard to blacklist hungry men like Basille (or however you spell his name) from buying an NHL franchise, but fail to get involved in such a spitting contest as the Spirit/Belkin dispute. I just wonder what they’re waiting for.


August 18th, 2009
1:25 pm

with all due respect, spare me any backround that starts with “Don Waddell said…”

The man is the epitome of the boy who cried wolf, if he says they can’t be moved, then they better start packing the bags

[...] • The Atlanta Thrashers‘ ownership situation remains tangled, but a recent court decision could help expedite the team’s sale. (Don Waddell tells the AJC that there wouldn’t be a relocation of the team.) [AJC] [...]


August 18th, 2009
2:14 pm

We all know there is no such thing as a sanity clause.

[...] sale. (Don Waddell tells the AJC that there wouldn’t be a relocation of the team.) [AJC] • NOT HOCKEY: I went for a physical today for the first time in … well, some time. [...]


August 18th, 2009
8:07 pm