The short and sad reign of Atlanta Spirit will end shortly, as Los Angeles businessman Alex Meruelo is buying the Atlanta Hawks (NBA) and the lease to Philips Arena.
The sale comes a few months after the Spirit sold the Atlanta Thrashers (NHL) to a Canadian investment group; the team will play next season as the Winnipeg Jets.
For the NBA, Meruelo will be the league’s first Hispanic owner. A first-generation Californian, Meruelo made his money initially marketing to California’s Hispanic community with the creation of La Pizza Loca and quickly branched into other areas, like real estate, construction and mass media (the Meruelo Group owns KWHY-TV in Los Angeles). The Meruelo Group also owns Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort and Casino.
The purchase has not yet been announced; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke details of it today.
Some members of the Atlanta Spirit group will retain a minority stake in the new Hawks ownership. However, Meruelo will control operations and be in charge of all major decisions. The NBA Board of Governors still needs to sign off on the deal, but it’s expected to be little more than a formality.
It’s a sad end to Atlanta Spirit, formed in 2004 to buy the Hawks, Thrashers and the Philips Arena lease from Time Warner. The group spent most of its time in court, with principles fighting over control of the corporation.
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