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Hawks Rumors: Tuesday

It’s been a tumultuous and unusual offseason, as a pair of race-related scandals have rocked the league’s front offices. The tempest surrounding the Clippers appears to be mostly in the past, with Steve Ballmer firmly in control of the franchise, but the Hawks remain in limbo, with GM Danny Ferry on indefinite leave and the primary stake in the team up for sale. The league “can’t have another summer like we’ve had this year,” as longtime executive Wayne Embry tells Michael Lee of The Washington Post, so while we wait for clarity from Atlanta, here’s the latest on the Hawks situation:

10:30pm update:

  • Gearon Jr. approached Levenson about selling the franchise within the past year, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, who adds that the controlling owner wasn’t interested at that time.
  • According to Zillgitt’s sources, Gearon Jr. and Ferry have long been at odds. Ferry was originally hesitant to take the job as Hawks GM before Levenson alleviated his concerns about the front office working environment by making it clear Ferry would report directly to him.
  • The resulting working relationship between Levenson and Ferry bothered Gearon Jr., who called for Ferry’s dismissal via a letter to Levenson after the GM’s racist comments were discovered internally: “If Ferry’s comments are ever made public, and it’s a safe bet they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise.”
  • Only a brief snippet of the audio recorded by Gearon Jr. has been made available and there is no full transcript of the call, Zillgitt reports. The NBA has requested a full transcript but one has not been provided.
  • Also in the letter from Gearon Jr. to Levenson were accusations that Ferry wasn’t mindful of maintaining racial diversity within the organization: “The racial diversity of our management team has changed for the worse since Ferry took over.” Zillgitt challenges those claims citing statistics from the 2014 Racial and Gender Report Card for the NBA and also hears from an owner, presumably from another NBA team, who expressed concern over the prospect of Gearon Jr. becoming the controlling owner in Atlanta. An agent told Zillgitt that he wonders whether he can trust Gearon Jr. not to record their conversations.

4:39pm update:

  • Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed held a press conference today regarding the Hawks situation and the search for new ownership for the franchise. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran down the important points from the event.
  • Reed said that the city would play a role in finding new ownership for the franchise, and that he has already spoken with six potential buyers, all of whom have sufficient resources to acquire the team.
  • The mayor declined to name the prospective buyers, though he did say that one is from China, Vivlamore tweets.
  • In regards to the city’s role in finding new ownership, Reed said, “The city is going to play an important role in the buyer who purchases Mr. [Bruce] Levenson’s interest. Obviously, we have a vital interest as the owner of Philips Arena and the holder of the debt on Philips Arena in making sure that we get a terrific partner in the city of Atlanta. We also have an interest in making sure that the new buyer wants to keep the team in the city and in the city. Let me be clear what that means. In the city and in the city. That means that a prospective owner that receives my support, and I believe the support of the Atlanta City Council, will make a long-term commitment to keep the Atlanta Hawks in the city of Atlanta and will make a long-term commitment not to move the franchise. I want to publicly state from the city’s perspective that is going to be our perspective to whomever the prospective owners are.”
  • According to Reed, Levenson, the team’s controlling owner, owns 24 percent of the Hawks individually.  Along with his partners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman of the Washington Group, the trio own 50.1 percent of the franchise. Both Peskowitz and Foreman intend to sell their portions of the team.
  • The Atlanta contingent of owners, Michael Gearon Jr., Michael Gearon Sr., and Rutherford Seydel, intend to keep their stakes in the franchise.
  • Reed relayed that the NBA has hired an investment banking firm to begin vetting prospective buyers, and he is scheduled to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to discuss the sale on September 26th. Reed expects the sale process to move along quickly.
  • Dominique Wilkins expressed interest in buying the Hawks, Vivlamore tweets, and that confirms a TMZ report from last week. Wilkins made only slightly more than $20MM during his playing career, according to Basketball-Reference, so presumably he’d be part of a group of investors.
  • Reed also said that it’s highly unlikely that the Hawks would relocate, and that the city would need to lend assistance to keep the team in Atlanta, Vivlamore tweets.

Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

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