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Hawks, Ressler agree on sale for reported $850M

POSTED: Apr 22, 2015 8:02 PM ET
UPDATED: Apr 22, 2015 9:16 PM ET

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— A group headed by billionaire Antony Ressler has agreed to purchase the NBA's Atlanta Hawks for $850 million.

The team announced the deal Wednesday during the first half of the Hawks' Eastern Conference playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets.

The sale price was not released. But a person familiar with the deal, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the two sides did not reveal that information, said Ressler's group would pay $850 million, including debt the team owes.

Former NBA star Grant Hill, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and her husband, entrepreneur Jesse Itzler, are part of the new ownership group. The deal was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks went on the market after discovering an inflammatory email written by co-owner Bruce Levenson in 2012, complaining about the racial makeup of the team's fans. On the heels of Donald Sterling's forced ouster as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers under similar circumstances, Levenson announced he would sell his share of the Hawks.

The deal still must be approved by three-fourths of the NBA's other 29 owners. That should not be a problem, given that Ressler is a minority owner of baseball's Milwaukee Brewers and is familiar to the NBA for his attempts to buy the Los Angeles Clippers last year.

"We are honored and thrilled to have been chosen to become the new stewards of the Hawks," Ressler said in a statement issued by the team. "We respect the NBA's approval process and, accordingly, can say no more other than we are incredibly excited by the Hawks' success and wish them luck in the playoffs."

Ressler was not at Philips Arena for Game 2 of the playoffs. The Hawks won the series opener 99-92.

In September, Levenson announced he was selling his stake in the team after writing a racially charged email two years earlier in which he complained that the Hawks struggled with attendance because "the black crowd scared away the whites."

Levenson's email was uncovered during the team's internal investigation of general manager Danny Ferry, who made racially derogatory comments about potential free agent signee Luol Deng during a conference call with the ownership group. Ferry went on indefinite leave shortly afterward and hasn't been with the Hawks all season, his future expected to be decided by the new owner.

The Hawks will sell for a figure that will fall between the prices of two teams which were sold last year. The Milwaukee Bucks went for $550 million, while Steve Ballmer landed the Los Angeles Clippers for a staggering $2 billion - an unprecedented figure for a U.S. sports franchise, one that Forbes had valued at $575 million.

The Clippers were hastily sold after Sterling was forced out by the league over recordings in which he told his girlfriend not to bring blacks to the games. Ressler's group came up short in its bid.

"We are excited to welcome this new ownership group and are deeply gratified by its commitment to the Hawks and the Atlanta community," said Steve Koonin, the Hawks' chief executive officer. "We are pleased that the group is committed to continue building on the franchise's storied history and recent success."

The 55-year-old Ressler, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes at $1.4 billion, was part of the investment group led by Mark Attanasio that bought the Brewers in 2005.

Based in Los Angeles, Ressler is co-founder of the private equity fund Ares Management. He married actress Jami Gertz in 1987.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said the city might offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for another 30 years. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had told prospective owners that he wants to team to remain in the city where it's been based since moving from St. Louis in 1968.

"I do want to see the Hawks stay in Atlanta, and we've made that clear to the market," Silver said in January.