Jim Hickey’s American Politics

Let's Get Real.

Bruce Levenson Sells the Hawks to Antony Ressler

The Atlanta Hawks have existed in an NBA quagmire for the better part of the last 30 or so years. It has been since 1970 that the Hawks made it to the NBA Finals and 1969 since they actually won one. So you know that Atlanta fans were rightfully getting irritated with the nature of the team. The early ’90s had Atlanta posting powerful numbers but they were always second or third fiddle to the monsters in the Eastern Conference. Then in the early 2000’s things started to change and it was due, in large part, to the work of owner Bruce Levenson according to time.com.

Levenson purchased the Atlanta Hawks through his group, Hawks Spirit LLC, back in 2002. The Atlanta Hawks were coming off of back to back dreadful seasons and desperately looking for some sort of shot in the arm. Like all things, it wasn’t immediately apparent that Bruce Levenson would be able to change the nature of the franchise. You don’t fix up years of mismanagement in just an off season. However things got onto a roll when Levenson began to put a special focus on drafting great athletes and spending money in free agency. You can’t build a contender without being willing to take some risks.

In 2004 the Hawks picked up the hyper athletic, all purpose forward Josh Smith (15PPG, 8RPG for his career)and he would be the first building block in place for the Hawks. In 2007 Atlanta added Al Horford and then in 2009 they added Jeff Teague. These three players would be the key parts of the engine for a growing and burgeoning Hawks franchise. In 2009, with all three pieces in place, Atlanta would go 53 – 29 while center Al Horford cemented himself with his first All Star game appearance.

So Levenson had assembled the pieces and now they just had to have time to come together. Last year, in 2014 – 15, the Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1970 and this was after a year where they set a franchise record for wins in a single season. Things were on the up and up for Levenson and the Hawks, and Levenson was about to cash in big. You see, the sales of both the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers had dramatically altered the projected value of owning an NBA franchise. Forbes had initially listed Atlanta, pre-Clippers sale, with a value of near $400 million. After the Clippers sale the Hawks were valued at $850 million, and that is what the new owner would end up paying.

Levenson sold his shares of the company to billionaire Antony Ressler for a cool $850 million. Ressler had previously been stymied when trying to purchase the L.A. Clippers as he was not able to raise the required funds, or willing, that new owner Steve Ballmer would eventually end up paying. Perhaps that will end up being a great fact for Ressler as he is getting a cheaper franchise that looks just as ready to grow into the future.

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