The Atlanta Hawks finally, finally have an owner. After years of internal strife amongst the myriad owners involved in the team's ownership group, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports today that Los Angeles pizza chain owner and diverse business mogul Alex Meruelo has an agreement to become majority owner of the Hawks. The Hawks can finally move on. From the AJC:
Although his primary residence and business will remain in Southern California, Meruelo said he plans to spend a lot of time in Atlanta and to buy a home here.via L.A. businessman buying majority stake in Hawks | ajc.com.
"If you look at my previous ... business ventures, I'm very hands-on, and this will be no different," he said.
Asked if there is any scenario in which he would seek to move the Hawks out of Atlanta, Meruelo said: "Absolutely no. None."
Owning an NBA team, he said, "has been a dream of mine and a passion, and you'll definitely see that as I become, hopefully, the owner in a short period of time."
The Hawks have been handcuffed by a minority group that allowed them to conduct business and make deals but had no long-term leadership plans due to their desperation to end the agreement that caused a rift amongst the various owners. Meruelo won't take control of the Hawks for another few months while the Board of Governors works through the lockout and tries to get themselves into one place, which is really difficult all of a sudden. But when he does, Meruelo told the AJC that there's no risk he'll try and move the team to Los Angeles or anywhere else. The plan is to keep the team in Atlanta.
All of this comes as a relief for Hawks fans, who not only had to be concerned about the team moving out like their co-tenants the Thrashers did, but have become increasingly frustrated with what is perceived as a lack of organization to the team's approach as it has stalled in the second round of the playoffs. Larry Drew actually took the team the furthest it has gone with the current core, but showed a number of tactical errors, and the contract of Joe Johnson is so expensive and so long there has to be concerns about the team's viability as a contender in a few years. As a result, Josh Smith has been on the block for the past few months, and that will likely only increase after the expected lowering of the salary cap.
With new ownership and a clear, unified voice in the way of a central owner, Hawks fans have reason for hope. Now the only question is whether Meruelo's hands-on approach will be for the benefit of the team, and exactly how much change this will bring to the franchise.
Also notable is the fact that Meruelo becomes the first Hispanic majority owner in the NBA, a sign of the increasing diversity of the ownership in the league, even if it has been slow developing.