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Nightmare on Marietta Street continues: Former Thrashers owners hold onto Hawks

Former Thrashers owners Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Michael Gearon (not pictured) will be holding onto the Hawks, after an agreement to sell the team to California businessman Alex Meruelo fell through on Friday.
Former Thrashers owners Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Michael Gearon (not pictured) will be holding onto the Hawks, after an agreement to sell the team to California businessman Alex Meruelo fell through on Friday.
(Getty Images/Scott Cunningham)

The deal to sell the Atlanta Hawks to California businessman Alex Meruelo died its eventual death in a quiet press release on Friday afternoon.

The Atlanta Spirit – the sue-happy band of owners that was last seen selling off the Atlanta Thrashers and banishing them to Winnipeg in a New York minute – is committed to keeping the Hawks.

Atlanta’s basketball team is off the market for the foreseeable future.

“The Atlanta Hawks are no longer for sale,” Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said in the 4:53 p.m. press release shortly after Meruelo and the Spirit terminated their sale agreement. “We're excited to remain as owners of the Hawks and are committed to building on our string of four straight playoff appearances.”

Just like that, Meruelo’s quest to become the first Hispanic-American owner in the NBA ended.

Unfortunately, the city of Atlanta’s nightmare continued. Much like cult-horror film favorite Freddy Krueger, the dysfunctional Atlanta Spirit are back and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

There’s an old addage in the news business. You dump good news first thing Monday morning.

Bad news? That gets buried in a press release just around the time regular folks are getting ready for the weekend.

You hope that nobody is watching.

Hawks fans and the city of Atlanta definitely got some bad news on Friday.

Thrashers fans did, too, because there’s no way that you’ll ever have a chance to get NHL hockey back in this town when the duplicitous, despicable Atlanta Spirit runs the best suitable arena in the metropolitan area.

Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon, Jr. are sticking around for a bit. So are Rutherford Seydel, Ed Pekowitz, Todd Foreman, Beau Turner and Michael Gearon, Sr.

Deal with it.

The Atlanta Spirit is kind of like herpes. Once you get them, you can’t get rid of ‘em.

And “try” as they might, the city of Atlanta just can’t rid itself of the least honest ownership group in North American professional sports* that has been a model of how not to own a professional sports team since buying the Hawks and Thrashers in 2004.

It comes as no surprise that this deal eventually unraveled. The only surprise is that no one is suing anyone yet (another Atlanta Spirit speciality).

The bottom line is that it was simply not economically feasible for Meruelo to buy the team in the way the deal was structured and get the NBA's seal of approval.

When word of the $350 million “enterprise value” of the team first leaked shortly after the Meruelo press conference in August, it became apparent that the financing package used by the California pizza wiz to buy the Hawks was about as deep as the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries nuptials.

Add $120 million in Philips Arena bond debt to a $125 million term loan to another $60 million or so that Forbes listed as other Hawks team debt (likely some money still owed by the Spirit to Time Warner), and it looked like Meruelo was putting little, if any, money into the transaction.

Sprinkle in the fact the minor detail that the once “cash poor” Spirit was self-financing part of the deal and it quickly became apparent that the sale of the Hawks was turning into the NBA equivalent of infomercial king Carleton Sheets’ “No Money Down” real estate program.

But the NBA wasn’t going to repeat the same mistake made by the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning and major league baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers, putting the kibosh on a sale that could put the Hawks at a competitive disadvantage because how highly the team was leveraged.

Perhaps Hawks fans should be grateful for that.

But much like a bad infomercial, the Atlanta Spirit is not going away.

The Nightmare on Marietta Street continues.

* - The Atlanta Spirit was named the least honest ownership group in North American major professional sports (No. 122 out of 122) for their ownership of the Thrashers in an ESPN survey.

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