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Hawks ownership ends long-running dispute with buyout

Dec 23, 2010, 10:11 AM EST

Image (1) hawks_logo-thumb-250x134-11979-thumb-250x134-11981.gif for post 4050

No general manager in the league had quite the challenges in getting a deal approved that Rick Sund had in Atlanta. That’s because the Hawks (and the NHL’s Thrashers and Phillips Arena where they all play) are owned by Atlanta Spirit, a group of owners who made decisions as a group.

Want to get approval for a trade? Sund had to get eight infighting owners to agree on it. It was like watching Democrats and Republicans try to hammer out legislation. It was ugly.

But now things may have cleared up. Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson have become the lead owners of the Spirit and the Hawks after buying out Steve Belkin’s 30-percent share, the team announced.

The dispute that had gone on since 2005 — it started over the acquisition of Joe Johnson and had blossomed into being about everything. Levenson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the dispute did not impact day-to-day operations (which is not the perception of others around the league):

“I think if you talk to anyone in either organization, they will tell you that this lawsuit has had zero impact. Zero,” Levenson said. “At the end of the day, we had a business partner who we were in a dispute with and we have settled that dispute. It may sound a lot more complicated but that’s really what happened.”

Levenson said the group is looking for additional investors.

The Spirit has lost money, about $50 million in the last two years combined according to court papers tied to the Belkin dispute. To add to that, Levenson and Gearon were the ones who reportedly wanted the massive contract extension for Johnson this summer. The one they will regret in four years.

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