Team Grab Includes Philips

Steve Belkin, part owner of basketball’s Atlanta Hawks and hockey’s Atlanta Thrashers, said he was “very thrilled” after a Maryland court gave him the right to become the sole owner of both teams and operator of Philips Arena.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson ruled June 9th that the teams’ seven other owners did not abide by the terms of an agreement to buy out Belkin. The judge said the group’s actions triggered Belkin’s right to buy them out.

If the ruling stands, Belkin is entitled to buy out Atlanta Spirit LLC group for the two teams, along with operating rights to Atlanta’s Philips Arena.

“I absolutely want to own the teams, and this is not about money for me,” Belkin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s been my passion and dream for over 20 years to own and control an NBA franchise, and it’s clearly still my dream and passion today to own the Hawks and Thrashers and to build championship-caliber teams.”

The current ownership group has vowed to fight the ruling. Belkin was forced out of the group following a bitter and public dispute over the Hawks’ decision to trade Boris Diaw, two first-round draft picks and a $4.9 million trade exception to the Phoenix Suns for Joe Johnson.

“We have just received the court’s 23-page decision,” part-owner Bruce Levenson reportedly said in a statement. “The decision is wrong, both on the law and on facts. We will review our options with our legal counsel, but we expect that the decision will be overturned on appeal.”

In a June 9th e-mail to Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena employees, some owners reportedly said the appeal “could take an extended amount of time” and “in the interim there will be no change in the governance of the partnership of day-to-day operations.”

The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League must approve changes of team ownership.

Appraisals valued Belkin’s 30 percent stake at $88 million and $140 million, the Journal-Constitution said. In court filings, the other owners called both figures “grossly excessive” in light of Belkin’s $11.7 million investment.