If Meruelo can’t have the Hawks, will anybody buy this team?

If the sale doesn't go through, can he at least keep the hat? (AP photo)

Even if the Hawks' sale doesn't go through, does Alex Meruelo at least get to keep the hat? (AP photo)

Buzzard’s luck is when you can’t kill anything and nothing will die. And now, not for the first time, we wonder if the local NBA franchise should change its name from Hawks to Buzzards.

After seven years of being lost in the wilderness we called the Atlanta Spirit, the Hawks finally found someone — and significantly, this entity was a one and not a many — who really wants to own them. He’s Alex Meruelo, and his introductory briefing in August was long on nothing except enthusiasm. He was going to do this right, he said. He was going to work his hardest to win Atlanta’s trust and make the Hawks relevant again. Frankly, it sounded great.

But now we learn that Alex Meruelo of Downey, Calif., might not be buying the Hawks after all. The sale, reports esteemed colleague Tim Tucker, is in jeopardy because the NBA isn’t sure Meruelo has the wherewithal to buy and run the team in the way an NBA team needs to be run. (Although, it must be noted, no NBA teams are purring smoothly as we speak: The league has locked out its players.)

Meruelo released a statement Wednesday saying he has “more than ample resources to purchase and operate the Hawks in a first-class manner,” and it’s entirely possible this apparent stalemate is just part of a process that will ultimately yield league approval. It’s also possible it isn’t, and that soon Meruelo will be reduced to a local footnote on the order of David McDavid, the Texas car dealer who sought to buy the Hawks and the Thrashers from Turner Broadcasting and who wound up being elbowed aside to make room for the many-headed Spirit. (McDavid would also wind up winning a $281 million lawsuit for his trouble.)

The point being: It’s seldom easy to believe fully in the Hawks, and stuff like this is the chief reason why. Nothing about this star-crossed team ever seems to go as planned, whether it’s the sign-and-trade for Joe Johnson — that wound up in court, too — or the drafting of Marvin Williams. The refreshing part about Meruelo is that this franchise’s checkered history doesn’t faze him, but there’s now a chance he could become another paragraph in the tangled tale of woe.

And then we need ask: If not Meruelo, who? Even with the Thrashers sold and gone to Canada, this always figured to be a tough sell — a team that doesn’t draw well and that hasn’t won quite as big as it needs to win, coming off a lockout (assuming the lockout ever ends) to boot. Owing to his $120 million contract, Joe Johnson might be the least popular star in North American sports, and that contract runs through 2016!

In conversations back in August, Meruelo admitted he didn’t know a whole lot about the Hawks’ history, which kind of made sense: If he had, he might not have wanted any part of them. But clearly he did, and hearing him speak so effusively you thought, “Maybe this is the guy they need — someone who doesn’t care about yesterday and who’s committed only to tomorrow.” He hit enough right notes to make you believe he saw the Big Picture. But now: Snag city.

If not Meruelo, then the Hawks could be facing a worst-case scenario: They’d revert to being owned by the folks who’ve been desperate to get rid of them. Could we really trust Messrs. Gearon and Levenson, et al, to make the right moves, financial and otherwise, when it has become clear their enthusiasm is stretched to the limit? Could anyone in Atlanta summon up one iota of enthusiasm for yet another season of Hawks basketball as presented by Atlanta Spirit?

No, it wouldn’t be a good idea for the Hawks to pass into the hands of someone, even an enthusiastic someone, who can’t really afford them. But it couldn’t be any worse than the alternative, which is a status quo so locally lampooned that even the once-chipper Spirit members are more than ready to fade into the woodwork. They’ve had enough. But they, and we, might be about to get even more. Have mercy on us all.

By Mark Bradley

75 comments Add your comment

Tommy

October 26th, 2011
9:55 pm

Drag it out. Make the Spirit foot the bill during the lockout. Serves those clowns right for destroying our hockey team.

jjm

October 26th, 2011
9:56 pm

Mark you should buy them

blazerdawg

October 26th, 2011
9:58 pm

Ah for the good ol days or Terrific Ted dancing courtside and high-fiving Hubie.

Mark Bradley

October 26th, 2011
10:00 pm

If Alex Meruelo doesn’t have enough money, jjm, I’m reasonably certain I do not.

Still alive.

October 26th, 2011
10:07 pm

Maybe Joe Johnson should buy them like Mario when penguins couldn’t pay him. Any prospective purchaser reading the comments behind this and Schultz would run run run from this disaster. ASG is headed for the bankruptcy they deserve and Hawks fans should be relieved another under financed owner is dropping out of picture. Someone will buy team at a fire sale after the lockout year or two from now. Hopefully it will financially ruin the remnants of ASG when they finally have to sell.

Mark Bradley

October 26th, 2011
10:08 pm

You know, $120 mil would buy a goodly chunk of this franchise

Lance

October 26th, 2011
10:09 pm

I haven’t considered this to be a “slam dunk” at all, despite liking Meruelo’s attitude in front of the press. However, wasn’t his purchase of the controlling share largely financed by Atlanta Spirit themselves? So much so (I read it was 40% floated by loans from Atlanta Spirit) that it is almost a meaningless purchase. How can you tell Gearon and Levenson what to do when you are borrowing money from them for that privilege? I suspect that Atlanta Spirit has found ways now to make continued ownership work, or at least work better than relying on Meruelo as an investor.

Meanwhile, as much as I am a hockey freak, I don’t miss the Terrible Thrashers (the New Winnipeg Jets are horrible!) and I am enjoying going to Gladiators’ games up in Duluth. They put on more of a professional effort and show than The Thrashers ever did. BTW, The Gwinnet Center is over twice as booked as Philips Arena is over the next three months. Atlanta Spirit is doomed!!!

Logic.

October 26th, 2011
10:12 pm

Gah, the Spirit are a bunch of clowns… they had absolutely no clue what they were getting themselves into, now they can’t wait to get out. Only the fans suffer. They couldn’t have botched the Hawks/Thrashers franchises worse.

Yankee

October 26th, 2011
11:22 pm

Only someone who intends to move the Hawks would buy the team.

Bluestreak

October 26th, 2011
11:26 pm

These buffoons can’t even get out of their own way without messing it up. Would David McDavid have been any worse?

heartofdarkness

October 26th, 2011
11:39 pm

The new owner candidate may wake up one day, in the not too distant future, and discover himself to be the luckiest man in America. After reading the accounts of the last negotiating session between players and owners, I’m inclined to believe NBA glamour and hype will be a poor sale in muddle through America.

Charlie Criss Spud Webb Muggsy Bogues

October 27th, 2011
12:12 am

We can buy the hawks….THE SMURF GROUP……

Charlie Criss Spud Webb Muggsy Bogues

October 27th, 2011
12:17 am

To be honest, i knew it was a mistake waaaay back when it was announced that the Atlanta Spirit had bought the team. Too many hands in the pot. That being said…… Maybe the league could buy tne hawks after they sort out their lockout??

Crazy Diamond

October 27th, 2011
12:49 am

We are so screwed!

Columbus

October 27th, 2011
1:12 am

You write decent Mark when its not about UGA. I mean yeah this is a negative article too, your forte it seems, but it was good and I guess who cares if the ASG get the knife stuck in them and twisted right?! They actually deserve it and are not a bunch of college kids in a rebuilding program getting stressed out my AJC media hype and a really good coach getting pummeled by you too without much consideration or understanding and certainly no hope or support during a tough time? Just one view point..SQUEEZE them and create a media hyped lynching huh? Severely biased writing is wrong, especially if it helps create an atmosphere that unfairly and unjustifiably affects people’s futres in a negative way. The assault on Richt was one of the worst actions in sports I have seen, maybe ever, that was not close to justifying the crime or the circumstances. Where you from Philly? You would fit in well there…..

Herschel Talker

October 27th, 2011
1:24 am

MB:

Maybe Mark Richt can buy the Hawks after he gets fired from UGA.
Millions of dollars were wasted on this incompetent fool who brought us down to mediocrity.
Just one more loss from the big 3 left on the schedule and he is done.

FIRE MARK RICHT!

HT

Harry Hawk

October 27th, 2011
1:42 am

To be fair, the Hawks were the one team ASG cared about. They were just so inept that they couldn’t make enough money at owning the team. Meruelo is an unknown commodity to me, so I don’t assume he’s going to be any better or worse than what we have. He’d have to prove it, and the fact that there’s “a snag” in the purchase leads me to believe that he may not get the chance to do so.

Darren

October 27th, 2011
2:00 am

I am so sick of the AJC and the blind eye this newspaper turns to our NHL franchise.

After just getting home from two years in Afghanistan, I come home and haven’t even seen one word about the Thrashers season on this site. The coverage now is even worse than before I left, and I didn’t think that would be possible.

The worthless NBA isn’t even playing and this paper STILL ignores the Thrashers and Gladiators!

Tom

October 27th, 2011
2:07 am

Darren… the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg… we no longer have an NHL franchise. Welcome home!

Whopper Dawg

October 27th, 2011
4:14 am

I don’t know what the price tag is for the franchise, Mark, you mentioned $120mm for a big piece. If I had anything approaching that type of money, (and I wouldn’t put a dime in it quite frankly), I would let it crater under its own weight and then pick it up under distressed conditions. If someone else stepped up in the interim, good luck.

hop

October 27th, 2011
4:29 am

It is very clear that atlanta sports scene does not display much passion

for professional sports scene.

Even the falcons only sell out when frans of opposing teams buy out tickets.

I know since a fair percentage populate the Dome.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Braves when their owner Denver

decides to get rid of them as well.

If it were not for College football, Atlanta would not be a decent sports town. .

BC

October 27th, 2011
5:33 am

It sounds like Joe Johnson should buy the team,oh, wait, then his salary wound not be guaranteed.

BigdaddyJ

October 27th, 2011
6:37 am

Rest assured, if this guy can’t buy them then the Spirit Group is praying the strike never ends so they don’t have to outlay any cash to player salaries. Worst ownership team in the history of sports. How many teams can one ownership destroy? Sure sucks watching the Jets on TV and knowing if they ever had put a decent product on the ice people would have supported them. After ten years of inept ownership why would they think people would fork out top money to watch a crappy product in this economy….ditto for the Hawks.

Let's Go

October 27th, 2011
7:03 am

Does anyone really care about the NBA? I mean if the NBA didn’t play at all this season would it be a big deal? I’m not talking about the Hawks but the NBA as a whole. In the last 10 – 12 years the product that the NBA has presented to their fans stinks, they ae hung up more on entertainment then quality basketball and it’s no wonder the only people that are screaming for their return is ESPN because they have time slots to fill in their schedule this winter.

Paddy

October 27th, 2011
7:04 am

Darren….welcome back. Glad you are safe.

If you think the ASG were tough before (counting office supplies that employees use), just wait till they become lame-duck owners this season.

How would you like to be the people that must sell season tickets for the ASG? WOW !!!!

Pete E. Tong

October 27th, 2011
7:10 am

Enter Arthur Blank, Atlanta’s savior.

layinlow

October 27th, 2011
7:44 am

Like I heard someone else say I hope these bastards have to keep the team and they bleed themselves straight into bankruptcy. I don’t want Meruelo if he doesn’t have enough money to run the team. That would be another disaster waiting to happen. Hopefully, after the spirit go bankrupt annd the NBA takes the team over we can find a suitable owner.

Paul H

October 27th, 2011
7:47 am

Can Joe Johnson buy them?

Weather Channel Expert

October 27th, 2011
8:07 am

Do you buy garbage? I think you answered your own question.

Had Enough

October 27th, 2011
8:15 am

After the Thrashers debacle, and the loos of the team, I’m in favor of anything that further damages the ASG and their properties. As long as any of the ASG partners have a “significant minority stake” in the Hawks or Philips Arena after this sale, I will NEVER set foot in that building for ANY event.

Atlanta Native

October 27th, 2011
8:38 am

I wish the Hawks would move to Canada, eh.

Section 119

October 27th, 2011
8:46 am

How/why did the NBA (or the NHL for that matter) ever approve the scum-sucking, hockey-killing ASG scalawags as owners? Where was the “due diligence” back then?

kudzu

October 27th, 2011
8:48 am

…maybe the government can buy the Hawks, you know, bail out…print mo money…

Your FaceBook Friend

October 27th, 2011
9:01 am

I am hoping for the worst outcome possible for the ASG – whatever that is. Bruce Levinson et al is a class A JERK.

kudzu has a good idea

October 27th, 2011
9:08 am

President Barry’s jobs program could easily include a buyout for the Hawks. I mean, who’s going to miss a few hundred million when El Jefe is going to print hundreds of Billions more. Perhaps he could disperse season tickets to the nurses at the hospital where he was born…or to his new friends in Iran.
In all seriousness, the problem with the Hawks sale is the same as with the NBA….No One Cares

ATL Fan

October 27th, 2011
9:18 am

Barak Obama could buy them. Take all that money (over $250,000 per year) that he would pay the players and redistribute it. I’m sure we would get all the greatest players lining up to play for the Hawks.

Wondering

October 27th, 2011
9:21 am

Just wondering…how much did the impending lock out contribute to the ASG clowns selling the Thrashers?

If the NBA season would have gone on as normal would they have held on until a local buyer could have been found?

Between the lost NBA revenue and the legal costs of all the asinine law suits the ASG probably figured they had to sell the Thrashers.

Still sucks not so much in losing THAT team, but the fact that we will probably never have another shot at NHL hockey here because of the Atlanta Stupid Group.

Bill

October 27th, 2011
9:30 am

Maybe Liberty Media can sell the Braves and take that money to buy the Hawks.They did such a great job with the Braves, this should make everyone happy.

WHO DAT BLACK

October 27th, 2011
9:34 am

Nothing more to say…..looking forward to the ‘Nique Double Pump All Star Revue starring:
Joe Johnson as The Balla
Josh Smith as The ‘Goat
Marvin Williams as the Sundance Kid
Mike Bibby as the Gipper
Al Horford as The Rock
and Dominique Wilkins as CAP or El Capitan(its Hispanic Heritage month)

Not supporting thug millionaires

October 27th, 2011
9:35 am

Tech Rules

October 27th, 2011
9:54 am

Mark,
You wrote “Joe Johnson might be the least popular star in North American sports”.

A requirement for being “least popular” is for people to know who the heck you are in the first place. And if you took a poll of sports fans in the US and Canada, I bet only 20% could even tell you what sport he played.

Pay up

October 27th, 2011
10:08 am

a lot of these players are broke and need cash to pay all their expenses. Where are they supposed to get money if the greedy owners keep them locked out? The owners need to pay the players what they want and get the games started.

Steve

October 27th, 2011
10:10 am

Would have been nice if the Thrashers had taken the Hawks with them. Atlanta Hawks basketball has not mattered in this town since the 80’s and early 90’s.

Hillbilly D

October 27th, 2011
10:18 am

the NBA isn’t sure Meruelo has the wherewithal to buy and run the team in the way an NBA team needs to be run.

And ASG is?

Owing to his $120 million contract, Joe Johnson might be the least popular star in North American sports, and that contract runs through 2016!

The people in Chicago might argue that one. They are stuck with Alfonso Soriano for 3 more years and $54 million, more.

reebok

October 27th, 2011
10:29 am

not enough people have heard of Joe Johnson for him to be unpopular.

Hayseed Dixie

October 27th, 2011
10:30 am

Ahh, the Hawks, the only thing Atlantans could crow about in the depths of being loserville (until Dennis Johnson hit some layups)

Now that the Thrashers have moved on, they are the brightest shining symbol of the continuing mediocrity of professional Atlanta sports.

Would anyone really miss them if they left?

James

October 27th, 2011
10:53 am

Someone please call David McDavid and see if he wants another shot.He has even more money now.

PMC

October 27th, 2011
11:01 am

Seriously, where is David McDavid?

JoeFan

October 27th, 2011
11:02 am

Maybe Meruelo should count his lucky stars and let the Spirit continue to wing in the wind. Who in their right mind would waste hard earned cash for the Hawks?

Just saying

October 27th, 2011
11:03 am

NBA owners and players are confronted with the economic realities of our time. If blue collar Americans and average working stiffs in this country quit supporting these millionaire owners and players, we would all be better off. They could put their money into feeding the poor and the homeless. Their combined resources could raise the standard of living for those poor people at the other end of the social spectrum. Their hunger pains, housing needs far out weigh the needs of society for more entertainment. Just saying……….