Atlanta owners settle legal battle

Updated: December 22, 2010, 10:00 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson have emerged as the lead owners of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers following a long legal battle and ownership split.

Gearon and Levenson confirmed Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press they have purchased Boston-based Steve Belkin's 30-percent share of the NBA Hawks, NHL Thrashers and Philips Arena.

Gearon and Levenson, sitting together Wednesday night at the Hawks' game against Cleveland, wouldn't release financial details in which they emerged as managing partners of the ownership group.

"At the end of the day we had a business partner we were in a dispute with and we settled that matter," Levenson said.

The ownership split began in 2005 over Belkin's objection to the Hawks' trade of Boris Diaw, two first-round draft picks and a $4.9 million trade exception to the Phoenix Suns for guard Joe Johnson.

"Now maybe we can move on," Johnson said after the game. "I haven't paid a lot of attention to it, but it's kind of a relief."

Gearon and Levenson have consistently said the long dispute did not affect day-to-day operations of the teams.

Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are based in Washington, D.C.

Gearon is based in Atlanta, as are his father, Michael Gearon Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner. Turner's father is Ted Turner, the former owner of the teams.

Levenson said he has had no success seeking additional investors for the Thrashers. He said he didn't know if the end of the lawsuit would make it easier to find investors who want to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta.

"That's possible," Levenson said. "I don't know if somebody out there was reluctant to raise their hand because of the lawsuit."

Gearon and Levenson said they are more optimistic than ever about the futures of the teams. The Hawks have made back-to-back playoff appearances and have improved their win totals in five straight seasons. The younger Thrashers are competing for first place in the Southeast Division.

"The perception is we don't spend money," Gearon said about the Hawks. "Yet you look at our roster and the core assets, we've kept all of them."

Gearon noted the Hawks re-signed Johnson to a six-year deal worth about $124 million in the offseason.

The agreement ends a long feud that had left Belkin still holding key votes in ownership decisions but unhappy with his role in the group.

Belkin asked the other owners to buy out his 30 percent share of the partnership called Atlanta Spirit LLC. But the parties could not agree on the value of Belkin's share. Then they could not agree on who should set the value.

Belkin, backed by a 2006 Maryland circuit court ruling that was later overturned, then contended he was entitled to buy out his fellow owners at cost and take over the teams.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press