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The Atlanta Hawks Controversy


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This thing is really fascinating.

My man Lang Whitaker from Slam Magazine sums it up perfectly,


That's Steve Belkin, one of the nine guys that owns the Hawks and the team's "NBA Governor," which means he must sign off on any decision the Hawks make. (I don't think that he normally has the horns and goatee and fiery eyes, but I may be wrong.) Last week Belkin refused to sign off on the Joe Johnson sign-and-trade, then filed a suit against the other owners to keep himself from getting fired as the team's Governor. See, as long as Belkin has the job, any and all basketball decisions have to go through him. It's about power. Belkin has it, the other eight guys don't want him to have it, and Belkin doesn't want to lose it.


If you believe Belkin, he's just being resposible. He doesn't mind the team signing Joe Johnson to a $70 million deal, but he does mind the Hawks giving up two future lottery-protected first round draft picks in order to ensure that they get Johnson away from Phoenix.


In fact, if we are to take Belkin at his word, he believes that those two first-round picks are so important, so crucial to the future of the franchise, that he's willing to sue the other owners, lose Joe Johnson, get an entire city and fanbase furious with him, lose all credibility with other NBA owners and agents, and potentially earn himself the brand as the worst owner in all of pro sports.


Just for the sake of fairness, let's look at the other side, those that disagree with Belkin. According to Hawks GM Billy Knight, "All of us on the inside understand [belkin's position] is a ploy. It has nothing to do with the trade itself. It has nothing to do with the terms of the trade. He has told me a number of times, in meetings and in private, that he would like to keep the payroll at the bare minimum -- not sign free agents.


"That's why he's against this deal, and that's why he's proposed these things that won't possibly get the deal done. The way he's proposing doing it is something another team wouldn't be interested in doing. It's all a ploy by him to make it look like he wants to sign people.


"For him to say this is about the picks -- that's ridiculous. The reasons he's using -- all of us in the know know he's fabricating them."


Mike Gearon Sr., who is also a member of Atlanta Spirit, said, "I think that's the real issue here ? one owner simply doesn't want to spend money to build this team," Gearon Sr. said. "This franchise is in critical condition, and we want to get it out of intensive care. Steve apparently has a different goal, and I'm afraid that's to operate this franchise on the cheap."


A different member of Atlanta Spirit, Bruce Levenson, said, "I spent my first year as an owner speaking to other owners with track records of success, basketball execs and top player agents. I asked them all the same question: 'How do you build a consistent winner in the NBA? Trust your basketball experts to make the basketball decisions. We pay Billy Knight, our scouts and coaches millions of dollars to find talent and negotiate deals. Every single one of them strongly supports this deal. As owners, we need to support our basketball experts until through bad deals they lose our confidence. Billy has a track record of smart deals and draft picks. That's why I support Billy and his staff 100 percent on this deal."


(The most interesting thing here is Billy Knight speaking out like this. Has a GM ever come out and just blasted his owner before without being immediately fired?)


(Also worth noting is that while Joe Johnson is at the center of this, this is not about Joe Johnson as much as it is about power and struggle within the Hawks organization. Right or wrong, they all agree Johnson is worth the money. It's the details they're fighting about.)


That's where we stand on this. One man against twenty Hawks employees and maybe a million fans. Belkin swears he's right. Nobody else agrees. Seriously. I can be obstinate from time to time, but I think if I ever get to the point that this many people not only disagree with me but also hate me intently, I'll back down.


Belkin, apparently, doesn't mind the hate.


As I write this, the two groups are in court, battling this out. If there's any justice in this world, Belkin will lose this case and get thrown out (or bought out) of the ownership group. It seems weird (and suspiscious) to me that a court case that could determine the future of a franchise isn't even being held in the franchise's city.


What happens next? A decision will come from the judge in the case, although I'm not sure we'll get a decision today. I was also told today that whoever loses can probably file an appeal. I have no idea how long this will take, but if it causes us to lose Joe Johnson, Belkin's going to see an outpouring of anger like he's never seen before.


The NBA is all about money. It costs money to build a winner, and being a winner is really and honestly all I want from the Hawks. If they can figure out some way to win a championship without spending any money, great. I'll get my championship hat and shirt and DVD set and be happy.


But I will never, ever support Steve Belkin. And if he becomes the main owner of the Hawks, well, I'll have to pick a new team to cheer for. Sorry, but I can't support anyone that's intentionally ruining one of my favorite things in the world. And there is nothing he can do -- short of trading for Shaq and KG and Tim Duncan -- that will change my mind. That or apologizing to me personally.


The bigger lesson here, the thing that all NBA fans can learn from, is just how tenuous these franchises can be. One crazy guy gets in charge of your team, and the next thing you know you're screwed. Mark Cuban, Jerry Buss, the Dolans, Glen Taylor -- these guys may not be perfect, but at least they're trying. They spend money, actually make an effort to improve each year.


The NBA already has one owner that's an embarassment -- Donald Sterling in Los Angeles.


Steve Belkin is trying to make it two.


Let's hope he shoots and misses.

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