Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thrashers, Hawks Legal Battle Comes To A Close

The long legal battle over the ownership of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers has been resolved as fellow owners Michael Gearon, Bruce Levenson have purchased Steve Belkin 's 30% share of the team. As part of the deal, Gearon and Levenson have become managing partners of an ownership group that includes Ted Turner's son Beau.

The fight began in 2005 over Belkin's objection to the Hawks trade of Boris Diaw, two 1st round draft picks and a trade exception for guard Joe Johnson (a completely defensible trade for the Hawks as Diaw has taken a liking to the food from his French homeland).

Belkin maintained a significant enough share to hold power in the ownership group but was not happy with his role in the group. He had previously asked that the remaining owners purchase his shares of the Atlanta Spirit LLC, the partnership which owns the Hawks and Thrashers, but they could not agree on a price for the shares or even who should set the price of the shares. Belkin brought the battle to court and relied on a 2006 Maryland court ruling that he was entitled to purchase all the shares of his fellow owners and take control of the teams. The ruling was later overturned.

This buy-out of Belkin settles this legal battle and should provide more stable ownership for the Hawks and Thrashers.

Gearon and Levenson have maintained that the ownership battle did not effect the day-to-day operations of the teams. However, the Hawks have kept their young core group together but have played minimally in the free agent market otherwise and the unstable ownership group could have been a factor. This offseason, after the club fired coach Mike Woodson, it eschewed more high profile, expensive head coaches to hire a first year coach in Larry Drew. Money could have been a factor in this decision.

Levenson did acknowledge that the lawsuit may have been a reason why they have been unsuccessful in attracting additional investors for the Thrashers.

What this means for the future of the Thrashers is unclear. A consolidated ownership group that does not include the disgruntled Belkin may make the team more attractive to investors who wish to purchase the team and move it elsewhere. Probably helps that the Thrashers are playing great hockey after a bunch of good hockey moves made by Thrashers GM Rick Dudley. Some of his key acquisitions include Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel.

The Thrashers and the NHL can now more completely focus on attendance problems in Atlanta.

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