Private equity mogul Tony Ressler and his partners have officially assumed control of the Hawks after receiving unanimous Board of Governors approval today, the league announced. Controlling owner Bruce Levenson, who last September announced his decision to sell as he self-reported racially insensitive emails that he had sent in 2012, and the rest of an often-divided consortium of co-owners have relinquished the team in the $730MM deal. The Ressler group is also assuming some $120MM in arena-related debt, raising the total purchase price to $850MM, as several reports made clear in April, when Ressler and his partners secured an agreement to buy the team. USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt reported a few days ago that league approval and the transfer would take place today.
“We are pleased that the NBA’s Board of Governors has approved the purchase of the Atlanta Hawks by principal owner Tony Ressler,” commissioner Adam Silver said. “Tony and his diverse and experienced ownership group will bring tremendous energy and passion to the Hawks and the team and its fans will greatly benefit from their commitment to the Atlanta community.”
Former player Grant Hill, private equity investor Rick Schnall, women’s wear magnate Sara Blakely and her husband, entrepreneur Jesse Itzler, are among those in Ressler’s group. They beat out another bid that reportedly involved baseball legend Hank Aaron as well as former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and current Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan. Former Suns and Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo, former player Junior Bridgeman and neuropsychologist Richard Chaifetz also apparently teamed for a run at the Hawks as part of a bid that once included Hill.
The new owners appear poised to work on a deal that would make Mike Budenholzer team president and coach, as well as one that would give assistant GM Wes Wilcox a promotion to GM, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported last week. Former GM Danny Ferry received a buyout earlier this week that gave him more than he would have received over the remainder of his contract, according to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com. Ferry had been on a leave of absence since September that he began after the revelation that he repeated racially charged comments about Luol Deng that had been written in a scouting report from an outside firm. The departures of Ferry and Levenson allow the team to move on from the scandal that hung in the background amid the team’s 60-win season.
Ressler and the front office face a challenge this summer to retain both Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll with only Early Bird rights on them and perhaps not enough cap space to meet their collective market price, as I examined in our Offseason Outlook for the team. Atlanta holds the 15th, 50th and 59th picks in Thursday’s draft.