Dreams are a very subjective part of the human psyche. Athletes dream of turning professional, of cashing a paycheck for playing a sport they would probably play for free in local rec leagues. Those blessed with a superior intellect often dream of the fortune that comes with success in the corporate world. And if you're a Massachusetts Kennedy, well, you basically dream of taking over the world.
When Steve Belkin purchased a majority interest in the Atlanta Hawks 18 months ago, it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream that began in a Boston boardroom almost 22 years earlier.
Unfortunately for him, that dream quickly turned into a prolonged nightmare.
The hostile takeover by eight members of the Atlanta Spirit LLC (a nine-man contingent, including Belkin, that bought the Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena) came to a conclusion last week with one clear resolution: Belkin -- along with his 30 percent stake in the company and position on the NBA Board of Governors -- was out. The resolution is clear, but in the end, to whom do we assess the blame?
Belkin is not your typical NBA owner and in his 18 months on the job he gave commissioner David Stern enough headaches to last a lifetime. But he is not dispassionate. He is not a DonaldSterling-esque owner who defines success by whether the ink on the financial reports are red or black. Belkin is cut out of the Mark Cuban mold, an avid hoops fan who has spent parts of three decades trying to acquire an NBA franchise. In 1983 Belkin, who built his fortune on the back of Trans National Tours, had an agreement in place to buy the Boston Celtics for $15 million, only to withdraw from the bidding a few weeks later when reports began to surface that one of his vice-presidents at Trans National, Henry Lewis, had been convicted of bookmaking in 1977. In 2001 Belkin made another run at the Celtics, who were eventually sold to venture capitalist Wyc Grousbeck for an NBA record $360 million. The following year Belkin came up short again, this time finishing runner-up to Robert Johnson in the bidding to own the new expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
It's easy to look at Belkin as a meddling owner, but where do you draw the line on an owner's right to "interfere" with his team? A source close to the team told SI.com that Belkin in no way felt Joe Johnson was worth the five-year, $70 million offer sheet Atlanta signed him to. However, Belkin signed off on the contract terms because he felt Johnson's addition -- even at a bloated salary --would improve the team. It was only after GM Billy Knight negotiated a sign-and-trade with Phoenix involving two Atlanta first round draft picks that Belkin began to balk.
Should an owner undermine his own personnel? Probably not, but Knight wasn't one of Belkin's people. In the last two ownership bids, Belkin had Larry Bird standing by ready to run basketball operations for Belkin's new franchise. With Bird in Indiana, Belkin was left with Knight, who was named general manager late in the 2002-03 season after longtime Hawks executive Pete Babcock was fired and was inherited by the new ownership group. What can be inferred from this situation is that Belkin did not have much faith in Knight as a decision maker; you can be sure if Bird had come to him with the same deal this would be a very different story.
Belkin was right to question the merits of this trade. Johnson is a nice complementary player, but is he a building block for a young franchise loaded with players who play his position? Johnson the point guard? We saw how well that worked out for Larry Hughes in Philadelphia.
At the end of the day, Belkin decided the only move left was to cut his losses. As first reported this week in Sports Illustrated, a source close to the team said Belkin initially agreed to allow the trade to pass and would have retained his position on the NBA Board of Governors. When it became clear the two sides could not maintain a working relationship, Belkin offered to buy his co-owners' 70 percent stake in the team; they countered with an offer to buy him out. With all his options exhausted, Belkin agreed to the buyout at a cost that will be determined by an independent appraiser before the end of the year.
The most disappointing aspect of this situation is how it went from internal strife to a public spit ball fight. Problems should have been broached, addressed, and dealt with before even a word of dissent became public. This could have been over before it began. Maybe future owners, with this kind of history staring them in the face, will remember that.
It seems like such a clearly bone-headed move on Atlanta's part to give away big money AND draft picks for a player they only arguably need that I can't help but think there is much more to all of this than we will ever know.
TEAM WANTED: With all the legal disputes behind him, Boston businessman Steve Belkin now is a player in search of an NBA franchise.
The conflict in Atlanta ended with Belkin selling his share in Atlanta Spirit LLC, the ownership umbrella for the Hawks and the Thrashers of the NHL.
Steadfast in his objection to a sign-and-trade for Joe Johnson that cost the Hawks two first-round draft picks and Boris Diaw and committed them to a five-year, $70 million maximum contract, Belkin walked away instead of approve the deal in his capacity as the team's NBA governor.
But it was clear in the statement made by commissioner David Stern that Belkin will be back in NBA ownership ranks sooner instead of later. Stern said he hoped Belkin would consider returning as an owner "in the near future."
Court documents described how NBA ownership has been a long and passionate pursuit for Belkin, certainly not one he will give up.
"I'm looking forward to buying another NBA team and being the controlling owner and governor," Belkin told The Boston Globe.
"I have learned a great deal about running a team from my experience in Atlanta. My preference is to buy a team reasonably close to Boston."
When asked if he would join an existing ownership group like that of the Celtics, Belkin said, "I would only join a group as the managing partner."
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Hawks completed the Johnson deal and are optimistic about a team filled with young talent. Owner Bruce Levenson is philosophical about all the attention the Hawks received as the owners battled.
"At this time of year in Atlanta, people are getting ready for football. The Atlanta Hawks are not getting a lot of attention," Levenson said.
"In the end, I think that's good for us. There's a buzz about the team. People are at least interested in how things are going to turn out."
i was shockked at the figures been throwen around for Joe Johnson.. i totally agree with Belkin's stance but in the end he seemed to be fighting a losing battle.. some owners/teams will never learn.
I just don't see JJ as being the "one" to carry a team. But I felt the same way about TMac when he first got that big contract from Orlando, boy was I wrong, but overall talent like that is rare and only time will tell how wise this move will be for the Hawks franchise.
Makes me realize how lucky we are to be fans of a team whose ownership is wise enough to let the right people make the basketball decisions.
|Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)|