Pizza Franchiser Buys NBA’s Atlanta Hawks

August 9, 2011

Atlanta Hawks owners have agreed to sell the National Basketball Association team to a group led by Los Angeles pizza franchiser Alex Meruelo.

Financial terms werent disclosed but the deal will allow the Hawks to continue their tenancy of the Philips Arena in the long term.

The deal is subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors.

“My focus is one focus: to bring a championship back to Atlanta. My focus is on the basketball team, my heart and my soul and that’s where I want to be,” Meruelo told his first news conference at the Philips Arena.

Meruelo, a Cuban-American who made a fortune with the La Pizza Loca fast food chain in southern California, choked up as he described his pride at being the first Hispanic owner of a basketball franchise.

Meruelo described himself as a “1000 percent Hawks fan” but gave no details of how he would address the team’s management, staffing or players — issues critical to Hawks fans.

“I am a lifelong basketball fan, a student of the NBA game, and this is a dream come true for me,” Meruelo said in a statement. “I am committed to winning and look forward to engaging with our wonderful fans, our dedicated season-ticket holders, our committed corporate partners and this passionate community. I believe that both the Hawks and Philips Arena have unlimited potential for the future. I am honored to be a part of that future.”

In particular, he said nothing about Joe Johnson, the team’s highest paid player who has been criticized for a failure of leadership as the team has four times reached the playoffs only to fall short before the Eastern Conference final.

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Hawks in six games in this year’s conference playoffs second round in May.

NBA rules restrict Meruelo from giving details of his own financial input and a lockout caused by a labor dispute between owners and players also constrained his comments, Hawks officials said.

“The first responsibility is that I earn the respect, the loyalty and the love of the Atlanta community,” said Meruelo, who appeared nervous.

“I will not … ever give up trying to win a championship for this city … I can’t promise you a championship tomorrow, but I can promise you that I will never give up,” he said.

The Hawks are rated among the better teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, though they trail the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics, who have each won multiple championships and the Miami Heat have overtaken them due to their high profile acquisitions.

The franchise has been owned by Atlanta Spirit LLC since 2004 until the bid by Meruelo Group. Atlanta Spirit are a group of executives who also owned the Atlanta Thrashers ice hockey team until they sold it in May.