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NBA Governors Approve $730 Million Hawks Sale to Ressler’s Group

The National Basketball Association’s board of governors approved the sale of the Atlanta Hawks to a group led by Ares Management LP’s billionaire co-founder Tony Ressler.

The sale price of $730 million, according to a person with direct knowledge of the transaction, is the second most paid for an NBA team behind former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers last year. Ressler’s group will also assume about $120 million in arena debt, another person said.

“Tony and his diverse and experienced ownership group will bring tremendous energy and passion to the Hawks and the team,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in an e-mailed statement from the league Wednesday. “Its fans will greatly benefit from their commitment to the Atlanta community.”

The Hawks had the best record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference last season at 60-22 and eliminated the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards in the postseason before being swept in the conference finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ressler’s group includes former NBA player Grant Hill, who’ll be chairman, a person familiar with the sale said in April. Others buying the team include private-equity investor Richard Schnall; Spanx Inc. founder Sara Blakely, and her husband, Jesse Itzler. Ressler will be investing personally in the Hawks, the person said.

Forbes in January said the Hawks were worth $825 million, 22nd out of the league’s 30 clubs.

‘Offensive’ E-Mail

The governors’ approval brings to an end the ownership of a group led by Bruce Levenson, who decided to sell the club after the disclosure of a 2012 e-mail he wrote that he called “offensive,” “inappropriate” and racially insensitive.

In the e-mail, which Levenson reported to the NBA in July, he examined why the Hawks have had difficulty drawing white season-ticket holders. Levenson said the e-mail “trivialized our fans by making cliched assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans).”

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Inner Circle Sports advised the Hawks on the sale.

The Hawks haven’t been to the NBA Finals since the franchise moved to Atlanta from St. Louis before the 1968-69 season. Prior to this season, the team made the playoffs for seven straight years, never advancing past the second round.

The Hawks averaged 17,412 fans at home last season, 17th in the NBA. In the past 14 seasons, the team never finished higher than 18th in attendance.

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