Even the feuding owners of the Atlanta Thrashers and Atlanta Hawks have gotten into the Christmas spirit. Their long-lasting dispute is finally over.
The Atlanta Spirit announced that the long-standing lawsuit between Steve Belkin and the rest of the ownership group was settled on Wednesday. Terms of the settlement are confidential.
Michael Gearon, Jr. and Bruce Levenson, who bought out Belkin’s 30-percent share of the Hawks, the Thrashers and the operating rights to Philips Arena, will serve as managing partners going forward.
“At the end of the day we had a business partner we were in a dispute with and we settled that matter,” Levenson told Charles Odum of the Associated Press.
Belkin and the remaining members of the Atlanta Spirit have been feuding ever since the team acquired Joe Johnson in 2005. Belkin used his position as the Hawks’ member on the NBA’s Board of Governors to block the potential trade that acquired the forward from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Boris Diaw and two first-round picks.
The other owners removed him as governor and Belkin sued for injunctive relief. Once his efforts failed and the trade was consummated, he exercised his right to be bought out under the partnership agreement.
When Belkin and the rest of the owners could not agree on a buyout price, Belkin filed suit in a Montgomery Co., Md. courthouse. That suit had been dragging ever since.
Five-plus years later, the legal posturing, and the saga of who is buying out whom and for what price is finally over.
Color Johnson, who posted 23 points in the Hawks’ 98-84 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Philips Arena on Wednesday a tad bit relieved.
“Now maybe we can move on,” Johnson told reporters after the game. “I haven’t paid a lot of attention to it, but it’s kind of a relief.”
Levenson and Gearon represent the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. contingents of the seven-man group that own the Spirit.
Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are from Washington, D.C. The Atlanta group includes Gearon’s father, Michael Gearon, Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner. Turner is the son of Ted Turner while Seydel is Ted Turner’s son-in-law.
The Atlanta Spirit is looking for investors to either join the Spirit or to buy the Thrashers. They have been unable to find anyone while the litigation was pending. The settlement of the Belkin suit may make it easier to find business partners now that the uncertainty of a possible nine-figure judgment is off the table.
“That’s possible,” Levenson told Odum when asked if it may now be easier to find additional business partners. “I don’t know if somebody out there was reluctant to raise their hand because of the lawsuit.”
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