Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Ressler a step forward because his name isn't Levenson, Gearon


The early days of the Atlanta Spirit Group. Ah, good times. (AJC photo)

Congratulations, Mr. Ressler: Here are the keys to your basketball team.

Now please change the locks.

The sale of the Hawks from the Atlanta Whining Toddlers on Parade to Tony Ressler was rubber-stamped by the NBA on Wednesday, thereby officially ending the reign of terror of possibly the worst ownership in the history of professional sports.

No more Washington group vs. Atlanta group. No more lawsuits. No more buffoonery, at least we hope.

There is no guarantee Ressler will be a great sports owner, or even a good one. But I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, merely because his name isn't Levenson or Peskowitz or Foreman or Gearon or Sleepy or Dopey. I've never really had a problem with partner Rutherford Seydel. He always seemed a harmless enough guy who just happened to join forces with the wrong used car salesmen.

The NBA has approved the sale of the Hawks to billionaire Tony Ressler (here with his wife, actress Jami Gertz). (Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images)

Nothing can undo the damage the Atlanta Spirit did. Atlanta lost its NHL team because those knuckleheads didn't care about the sport, didn't want the team, ran the franchise into the ground and then threw it onto the first northern-bound wagon they could find. Their actions before, during and after the Thrashers' sale were nothing less than contemptible, right down to the day when Levenson -- who orchestrated the whole thing -- hid in his bunker when the team was moved to Winnipeg and wouldn't deal with the backlash.

Nothing can reverse the blizzard of litigation between the two groups, or the backroom brawls or sandbox fights, or the fact that the Atlanta group -- led by Michael Gearon Jr. -- would have done anything to get former general manager Danny Ferry out of town, regardless of how many games the team won. Why? Because Ferry largely took his marching orders from Levenson, ignored Gearon as a major partner and burned bridges with Dominique Wilkins, Gearon's pal and the franchise icon.

That's not meant as a defense of Ferry -- obviously he could have handled a lot of things better. But Gearon and his father have shown themselves to be spineless weasels with their actions. Never trust someone who when you shake hands with him, you only get four fingers back.

It's appropriate that the unofficial end for the Spirit came because of shame -- the Levenson email which played to racial stereotypes and use them as an excuse for small crowds. Among the wonderful excerpts:

"(The crowd is) 70 pct black ... the cheerleaders are black ... the music is hip hop ... at the bars it's 90 pct black ... we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel. ... My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base. ... I think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority."

Strange. Crowds weren't a problem this past season. Fans were white, black and every shade in between. Maybe because the team was winning.

But I don't want to make a rash assumptions, like, "White fans won't come to the game because they don't like hip-hop."

What a dolt.

The only mystery here is that Gearon will still  be a minority owner in this group, expected to retain about a one percent stake. Some New York-based Spirit partners also are expected to be "investors" in the new setup.

I don't understand that. It would be better if Ressler started clean with all new faces and spines that weren't the consistency of gummi worms. But if he's really the only one with a vote in important matters and all of those dysfunctional conference calls among partners go away, it will be an improvement.

“We are pleased that the NBA’s Board of Governors has approved the purchase of the Atlanta Hawks by principal owner Tony Ressler,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

Atlanta should be pleased as well. Because while we don't know what the next regime will bring, at least it ends the last one.

 


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.