Phillips Arena

By David R. Cohen | david@atljewishtimes.com

A Jewish-led ownership group has agreed to buy the Atlanta Hawks, just not one of the groups reported to be finalists.

Billionaire Antony Ressler, a private equity fund manager, and his group, which includes former NBA All-Star Grant Hill and Atlanta entrepreneurs Jesse Itzler and Sara Blakely, are buying the franchise and the operating rights to Philips Arena for a widely reported price of $730 million, plus $112 million in assumed debt on the arena.

Two other Jewish-led groups, one headed by Oaktree Capital Management’s Steve Kaplan and the other by Lionsgate Entertainment Chairman Mark Rachesky, had been reported as the only remaining potential buyers when bids were due April 10, but the team confirmed April 22 that Ressler’s group was the winner.

The new ownership collective will need the approval of the NBA’s Board of Governors but has expressed interest in retaining the Hawks’ Jewish CEO, Steve Koonin, and NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer.

“We are pleased that the group is committed to continue building on the franchise’s storied history and recent success,” Koonin said in a team statement.

Ressler, co-founder of private equity firm Ares Management, is worth an estimated $1.43 billion. In 2014 he tried to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers but was outbid by fellow Jewish billionaire Steve Balmer. He is also a minority owner of baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.

At least two of his Hawks partners, Itzler and Rick Schnall, are Jewish.

Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson decided last fall to sell the team after a racially insensitive email he sent to Hawks staff members became public. Despite the distraction, the Hawks had the best season in franchise history with a 60-22 record and the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

“We are honored and thrilled to have been chosen to become the new stewards of the Hawks,” Ressler said. “We respect the NBA’s approval process and accordingly can say no more, other than we are incredibly excited by the Hawks’ success and with them luck in the playoffs.”

The Hawks are tied with the Brooklyn Nets 2-2 in their first-round, best-of-seven playoff series. The two teams play tonight at 7:00 P.M.