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