Phillips Arena

The sale of the Hawks franchise also includes operating rights to Philips Arena and $112 million in bond debt on the arena.

By David R. Cohen | david@atljewishtimes.com

The Atlanta Hawks were expected April 10 to receive the final bids for the NBA team from the last two potential ownership groups. While no word has arrived about the winner, one thing is sure: The team will remain in the control of Jewish-led ownership.

One group is led by Los Angeles private equity investor Steve Kaplan, the founder of Oaktree Capital Management, who became a minority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012. His group includes Indonesian billionaires Erick Thohir and Handy Poernomo and former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien.

The other group also has a Jewish leader with business interests in Los Angeles: Lionsgate Entertainment Chairman Mark Rachesky, who heads his own investment firm, MHR. His group also includes New York investment banker Steve Starker.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who like the current ownership group’s controlling partner, Bruce Levenson, is Jewish, told a group at the Business of Sports Summit last month in Sydney, Australia, that he expects to announce the new ownership group “sometime during the summer.”

Levenson’s revelation last year of a racist email he sent in 2012 about the team’s fan base spurred the sale of the Hawks.

The purchase of the franchise, which will enter the NBA playoffs as the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, includes operating rights to Philips Arena and $112 million in bond debt on the downtown arena.

Analysts have speculated that the arena debt has led to bids falling short of the $1 billion estimates common when the team officially went on the market in January. Forbes values the Hawks at $825 million, 22nd among the NBA’s 30 franchises. But many people expected a higher price after former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion from Donald Sterling in another transaction from one Jewish owner to another that was driven by the old owner’s use of racist language.