It seemed like a good story — Alex Meruelo was to become the first Hispanic to own an NBA team, and at the same time rescue a good franchise from the clutches of a dysfunctional and unimpressive ownership group. Meruelo was the guy on the white horse, talking big and he already had a press conference as the new owner.
But it turns out, he might not have the money to buy the team.
The sale of the Hawks is in jeopardy because of concerns about Meruelo’s funding, reports Marc Stein of ESPN. Meruelo was to buy 80 percent of the Hawks for a price tag of about $300 million.
Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that there are concerns at the league level and within the Hawks’ current ownership group, headed by Michael Gearon Jr. and Bruce Levenson, about whether Meruelo indeed has the sufficient funds to purchase a majority stake in the franchise and operate an NBA team.
Meruelo denied this.
Said Meruelo in a statement: “I have more than ample resources to purchase and operate the Hawks in a first-class manner. I am committed to the purchase of the Atlanta Hawks. While I can’t comment on the details of the approval process, I have and will do everything I can to bring the process to a positive conclusion.”
The Atlanta Spirit would retain ownership for now, which is a punch in the gut to Hawks fans.
Like seemingly everything, this circles back to the lockout.
Part of the reason we have hardline owners pushing the lockout beyond rational limits is because many of those same owners overpaid for those franchise and were heavily leveraged in doing so. When those franchises didn’t rise in value (as they had done the previous 15 plus years) those owners couldn’t justify losing money each year. So they came in and demanded major revenue sharing and givebacks from the players so they could turn a profit.
Bringing another leveraged owner into the mix now would be a poor idea.
It is possible that Meruelo will be able to show he does have the finances in place to purchase this team. The door is not closed. But right now it appears far from a sure thing. If he is out, the Atlanta Spirit (a consortium of owners) would be looking for a new buyer. And it can’t happen fast enough for Hawks fans.