The new principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Tony Ressler, closed the deal on the city’s professional basketball team on June 24. At his first press conference, 24 hours later, the Los Angeles businessman said the team would now speak with one voice … a marked contrast to the past owners, the Atlanta Spirit Group.
Atlanta has welcomed Ressler with open arms. He enters the scene as the new lead owner of the Hawks, without baggage and with great hopes.
Maybe now we can get an NBA championship. Maybe now we can have a unified ownership group. Maybe now we can have a leadership group with no trace of tension or racism. With former NBA player Grant Hill by Ressler’s side, the leadership duo reflects the diversity in Atlanta — and the entire country.
So far, so good.
But there are a couple of yellow flags.
Ideally, the lead owner of the Hawks would call Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in our community is less likely to move the team to another city.
Living in Los Angeles and going to basketball games in Atlanta is less than ideal for Ressler and his family, although they have bought a residence in Buckhead.
When asked if he would commit to keeping the team in Atlanta forever, Ressler wiggled his way out of a straight answer. Maybe it’s just a negotiating ploy.
But Ressler is on record saying that Philips Arena will either need to be remodeled or replaced, that doing nothing is not an option. Will he commit to keeping the Hawks downtown? Ressler said he is not ruling out anything.
This is beginning to sound like an expensive proposition for Atlanta.
Perhaps Ressler is not aware that Philips Arena is one of the most successful entertainment venues in the country. It has consistently ranked in the top five arenas in the nation, only surpassed by Madison Square Garden over the years.
What a shame it would be if it gets caught up in the frenzy of discarding our relatively new facilities for even newer and more expensive venues for pro sports.
Let us hope Ressler comes to fully appreciate our downtown and our arena … that he doesn’t get us into a bidding war with a western city like Las Vegas, or that he doesn’t uproot the Hawks from the heart of Atlanta, next to MARTA, for the suburbs.
The symbol for Atlanta is the phoenix rising from the ashes, an apt metaphor for the Atlanta Hawks. Last season started in a firestorm and ended with the team having its best record ever.
A new owner gives us hope the magic will continue.
Please Tony Ressler – don’t let Atlanta down.
Maria Saporta is editor of SaportaReport.