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EDITORIAL: Former Thrashers owners should sell Hawks, too (and quickly)

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The latest rumor circulating around the Internet is that the Atlanta Hawks are “on the verge” of being sold. Or at least that’s what Sports Illustrated says. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Spirit was quick to dispel that rumor.

Atlanta Thrashers fans can only hope that Atlanta Spirit owners Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon are lying again, just like they were when they told fans over and over again that the Thrashers were not for sale over the years.

If the reports are true, I think this reporter speaks for Atlanta Thrashers fans everywhere: Please let the door hit you on the way out, Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon. Good riddance to bad rubbish. It’s way past time for you to go.

The Atlanta Spirit is simply the worst ownership group that this city has ever seen. Yes, worse than the legacy of former Atlanta Falcons owner Rankin Smith.

Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon have this tendency to tell half-truths (or as I like to call them: lies). They undermine their own employees and they have treated customers in a manner that would get any one of their employees fired.

Imagine working for a company, doing whatever you can to cultivate and build the business despite putting an inferior product out there. Your boss follows by going into the equivalent with a meeting of the business' best customers and tells a complaining customer to “deal with” a ticket price increase. To add fuel to the fire, he calls another customer “a wiseass.”

Should you be shocked when a bunch of those customers “deal with it” by taking their money elsewhere? Of course not.

But that is exactly what Bruce Levenson told long-time Thrashers season ticket holders in a town hall meeting a few years ago. Many of those season ticket holders became former season ticket holders.

That’s simply not good business.

It also isn’t good business to tell half-truths (or lies) to your customers like Bruce Levenson, Michael Gearon and their henchman Don Waddell did during the entire Thrashers sale process. They told half-truths (or lies) to their customers when they told reporters that they weren’t talking to Research in Motion CEO Jim Balisille about selling the Thrashers a few years ago.

They told half-truths (or lies) to their customers when they told reporters that they did not have contact with anyone in Winnipeg a year ago.

And they MAY have told half-truths (or lied) to their customers when they told reporters that they didn’t have contact with True North Sports and Entertainment, Ltd. of Winnipeg until after the city of Glendale agreed to kick in $25 million to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in the “Valley of the Sun” for another year.

In fact, Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon have been less than truthful so many times that it’s very difficult to figure out where Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon’s half-truths (or lies) stop and where the truth begins.

Were Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon less than candid with potential bidders that wanted to buy the Thrashers, the Hawks and the operating rights to Philips Arena? Some bidders say so.

Was Michael Gearon less than candid when he said these same potential bidders couldn’t “afford season tickets” and when he accused one of them of being a “fraud?”

And when were the Thrashers actually really truly available for sale? When Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon settled their partnership dispute with former partner Steve Belkin (You know… the one that was “settled” in December, but still “technically” isn’t settled).

That’s what they told their new lawyers when Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon and their business partners sued their old lawyers in the Belkin negotiation. They put it in a legal document.

Or is the truth that they’ve been trying to sell the Thrashers for two years as Bruce Levenson, Michael Gearon and their partner-in-crime Gary Bettman want you to believe? Or is that just a convenient excuse so that the Thrashers could leave town on the quick?

Well, that one’s easy: despite what’s coming out of Bruce Levenson, Michael Gearon and Gary Bettman’s mouths to the public, an admission in a legal proceeding trumps whatever lame rehearsed storyline they spew for public relations purposes.

And the Spirit’s lawsuit against King & Spalding says in black-and-white that the “cloud to title” remained until they settled with Belkin in “the Fall” of 2010. They just simply couldn't sell the team until the suit was settled.

Now, with legal proceedings, if you make a mistake, you can always restate the record by filing something called an amended pleading.

But Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon’s lawyers haven’t done that yet. Why not? They wouldn’t make as much money IF their suit against King & Spalding is successful and they already successfully pushed the Thrashers out of town.

Yep, with the Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon, it’s normally about money.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Whether it was because of something called gross negligence or something more vicious like an NHL sanctioned drive-by shooting, the Thrashers are gone. And the No. 1 reason they are gone is because of Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon’s mismanagement.

Now, if you are a parent, you have a child in your custody or care and that child dies because of your gross negligence or because you did something that is borderline illegal, within the state of Georgia, we have this organization called Division of Family & Child Service or DFCS for short.

In that situation, DFCS investigates and makes sure that the other kids in the family do not get abused.

If DFCS launched an investigation into the Thrashers death and had to make a determination on whether Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon are “fit” to take care of their “other child” – albeit their “favorite son” Hawks – there’s absolutely no doubt that DFCS would simply take the Hawks away from them.

That’s a no-brainer.

The Thrashers were put in the Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon’s care – in the public trust for the citizens of Atlanta. Instead of taking good care of them, they abused the team, ridiculed the fan base and punted the team away to the highest bidder.

They should not have the same opportunity to run the Hawks into the ground. The bottom line is that Bruce Levenson AND Michael Gearon should not be trusted with the keys to Atlanta’s basketball team, either.

They should sell the team, as soon as possible and get out. Completely out. Even a 10-percent ownership by Michael Gearon is too much for him to have.

The sooner they are gone the better. Atlanta can move forward and begin the long process to hopefully get another NHL team down the road.

But the city of Atlanta can’t do that as long as Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon have a $1 investment in the Hawks and the operating rights to Philips Arena.

Hit the road Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon, and don’t you ever come back. Atlanta will not miss either of you.

Deal with it.

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