By Maria Saporta
During his press briefing Friday morning at City Hall, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed wanted to make two points about the Atlanta Hawks.
One, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver supports keeping the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta – no matter who owns a majority of the team.
Two, Bruce Levenson, who currently represents the majority ownership share of 50.1 percent, needs to move forward with the sale of his interests as quickly as possible before people in Atlanta begin lose patience with him.
The mayor said he decided to hold the press briefing after there were so many inquiries about his one-hour meeting last Friday with Silver and other NBA executives in New York.
“The NBA is absolutely committed to the City of Atlanta,” Reed said. “That really has been the threshold question given the way these events have unfolded.”
The mayor said it would be a “sick tragedy” if Atlanta were to lose the Atlanta Hawks because of racially insensitive remarks that Levenson wrote in an email. Levenson would end up profiting by selling his ownership share at a premium, while Atlanta, which has been gracious during this controversy, could end up being the loser.
The mayor vowed that he was not going to sit back and let that happen.
In fact, Reed made it clear that he is ready for Levenson to start getting serious about selling his share of team.
“There is some increasing urgency on when we will move forward with a new owner of the team,” Reed said. “I don’t know how long everyone is going to be so gracious.”
Reed added that he wants to move forward because of all the interest he has received from people who want to buy either Levenson’s share or the entire team. He said that he is forwarding all the information on potential buyers to Silver and the NBA’s chief financial officer. Those include two from outside the United States as well as some from Atlanta.
But before a sale can move forward, Levenson has to hire an investment banker and call a vote of NBA owners to proceed.
“In my mind, it’s really time for us to move on with it,” Reed said. “We have people with the resources and means to buy the team. The only element that is not functioning at this time” is Levenson taking the necessary steps to sell the team.
Reed said it was important to remember that it took the NBA from late April to August – 110 days – to sell Donald Sterling’s LA Clippers, even though it was under litigation.
The fact that Levenson has said he is willing to sell the team should make the process even quicker. Either way, Reed said the city has a goal of getting a Hawks deal done by the end of this year.
“We have been more than reasonable,” the mayor said, adding that Atlanta did not turn the Hawks controversy into a circus despite “many people who feel that Mr. Levenson’s comments were just as egregious as Mr. Sterling’s.”
Reed repeatedly said “we need to move this along,” adding that a sale would be beneficial to Levenson. If Levenson does not act in an expeditious manner, Reed said he did not know what tools the NBA or Silver would be willing to use against the Hawks owner.
“The people in Atlanta are only going to tolerate this going on for only so long,” Reed said. “I think it’s very important that we get this resolved as soon as possible. There’s growing impatience about this matter that is not readily visible.”
The mayor said the next 10 days are going to be key. During that time he hopes to have a meeting with Levenson to discuss the process involved in selling his interest in the team and the mayor’s adamant desire to keep the Hawks in Atlanta.
Reed also said that Atlanta is an important market for the NBA. It is home of one of its top broadcast partners – Turner Broadcasting System, as well as one of its top advertising and marketing sponsors – the Coca-Cola Co.
The mayor’s last comments about the situation during the briefing were: “The NBA Commissioner is wholly supportive of Atlanta keeping the Atlanta Hawks.”