HoopsHype Alex Meruelo rumors

October 19, 2011 Updates

Lockout notwithstanding, the NBA announced Tuesday that its Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve the sale of the Philadelphia 76ers. Meanwhile, the league remains quiet on the proposed sale of the Hawks, which appears stalled in the approval process. “Nothing new at this point,” NBA senior vice president of communications Tim Frank said by email Tuesday. Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Spirit Group’s agreement to sell a majority stake in the Hawks, as well as the Philips Arena operating rights, to Los Angeles businessman Alex Meruelo was announced Aug. 7, contingent on approval by the NBA. Ten weeks later, a decision on approval does not seem close at hand. A vote is not on the agenda for the league’s Board of Governors meetings Wednesday and Thursday in New York, Frank confirmed. The Hawks will be represented at the meetings by Bruce Levenson, a member of the group attempting to sell controlling interest in the franchise to Meruelo. The NBA’s labor dispute, which already has resulted in the cancellation of the first two weeks of the regular season, is expected to dominate the meetings. While Meruelo and Atlanta Spirit decline to comment on the sale approval process, citing NBA rules, the Spirit’s 2004 purchase of the Hawks and Thrashers from Time Warner provides a case study of the complications than can ensnare such deals, particularly when money-losing franchises are involved. Atlanta Journal-Constitution

October 13, 2011 Updates

Although his purchase of the Hawks is in-principle-only at this time (he's yet to be approved by the NBA Board of Governors, and the current lockout has his ownership confirmation on hold), it is known that with his ownership will come the operating rights to Philips Arena, where the Hawks play. "Over the last five years," Meruelo wrote in an email exchange with ESPN.com, "I looked closely at purchasing several teams that were on the market. But I found the right fit with the Atlanta Hawks. An excellent team with a storied history and a community I am excited to join." With great responsibility comes great power. "The impact of Mr. Meruelo's ownership of the Atlanta Hawks can be significant for the Hispanic community and the perception of Hispanics as business leaders both in and outside of the sports world," said Glenn Llopis, author of "The Six Reasons Why Hispanic Leadership Will Save America's Corporations." ESPN.com

"Most of the people in Atlanta don't know much about him," Jones said over the phone that night. "He didn't make his money here; he made his money in Cali. All we know is that he had enough money to buy the Hawks. And that might have an adverse effect on his ownership. Even with him being a minority." His point is that unless Meruelo moves to Atlanta and invests more than his money in the team, the city might not be willing to open its arms to him, at least at first. Talk to people in Atlanta and they will tell you stories about how Falcons owner Arthur Blank and former Braves owner Ted Turner endeared themselves to the people and the city. How they learned the nuances of Atlanta's culture and helped shape a culture of sports in a town that used to share its NBA team with New Orleans. (Back in the early '80s the Atlanta Hawks played some of their home games in the New Orleans Superdome.) ESPN.com

"If a black radio station called Arthur Blank's office and asked for him to call in for an interview, Arthur Blank wouldn't call … he'd show up!" Buckles said, explaining how an owner became one with the fans in Atlanta and what the fans there are accustomed to and expect from their teams' owners. "The question is, How is he going to approach the people he's not connected to? How is Alex Meruelo going to make that connection to the South?" Jones followed. "There will be a growth period to get to know him. But without knowing him at this point, there's concern if he's going to try to turn the Hawks into the Dirty South Lakers." ESPN.com

September 12, 2011 Updates

The family owned a bridal shop at Third Street and Broadway in Los Angeles and rented the tuxedo department to an outsider who was struggling to pay the bills. Maybe the son could take over. "This is an opportunity to really make something of yourself," he recalled his dad saying. Though just 16, Alex Meruelo had years of experience in the store, manning the cash register on weekends. That's how it went for the child of Cuban immigrants who had fought their way up from nothing, who preached the gospel of work. Meruelo thought it over and decided his dad was right. "I quit basketball," he says. "It was very hard." Los Angeles Times

Meruelo made his fortune buying in down markets and taking chances, amassing a chain of pizzerias and a network of real estate holdings, a television station and a casino. "He's opportunistic," says Bert Ellis, owner of KDOC-TV, who has bid against him in broadcast deals. Ellis calls Meruelo "very sharp, aggressive and shrewd." Los Angeles Times

Not that money completely eased the pain of leaving basketball. Years later, the former point guard dragged a friend to watch his alma mater, Rosemead's Don Bosco Tech, play on a rainy night. "This was his life, his history, and he wanted to see it again," says Pat Murphy, president of Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, where Meruelo's three children attend. "You know he wanted that starting varsity job." Los Angeles Times

Meruelo is given to impatience, as evidenced by more than a dozen traffic tickets that include speeding and improper use of the carpool lane. He can be loud, gesturing with his hands when he talks. "I'm Cuban," he says, by way of explanation. But friends insist he can maintain a sense of perspective. Los Angeles Times

Alex Meruelo has gone about his business in relative anonymity, raising his family in a $9.5-million home in Newport Coast, the same ritzy neighborhood where Kobe Bryant lives. He knew that buying an NBA team would raise his profile considerably. "Do you understand what you're getting yourself into?" he thought over and over. "Do you understand the exposure you can't avoid anymore?" It seemed that relinquishing this cherished privacy was a reasonable price to pay. Los Angeles Times

August 14, 2011 Updates

Off camera, in his element, Meruelo is decidedly different. Those who know the Los Angeles area entrepreneur describe him as a confident, aggressive businessman who has seized opportunity and elbowed his way to success. “He has a very good sense of timing, I tell you,” said William Lyons, a Southern California homebuilder who started an Orange County bank with Meruelo. “He is very shrewd. You can talk to him about a deal, give him 15 items [of information]; he’ll talk it over and then make a decision.” Earlier this year, the Meruelo Group bought the massive Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno for a reported $42.5 million. Just six years earlier, the property went for $151 million. But it was an even better deal than is apparent, Meruelo quickly added, pointing out that the previous owners put in $100 million in improvements. “So it was more like [worth] $250 million,” he said. “I stole it. It was a good deal.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Meruelo, who grew up in Los Angeles, forayed into business early, as a teenager, when he opened a tuxedo store. In his early 20s, he ventured into tough neighborhoods to open pizzerias. Later, he dove into real estate, stocks, banking, construction, TV and gaming. Along the way, he became a multimillionaire. “I always wanted to make money, to get ahead in life and make a name for myself, he said. Three years ago in court filings in a securities case, Meruelo was described as an “extreme speculator.” But Meruelo takes exception to that characterization in that deal or in his success as a whole. “I did it the old-fashioned way, penny by penny, dollar by dollar, day by day,” said the 48-year-old son of Cuban immigrants who came to the country after Fidel Castro took over. “I was always very driven, very focused.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution

His most recent buying spree — the TV station, the casino, the Hawks — all indicate a good run in recent years. “You buy when the opportunity is right; now, the purchases make a lot of sense,” he said. Despite the downturn — or maybe even because of it — he was ready. “I was lucky,” he said. “I was not very leveraged. I was well positioned. I had a lot of liquidity.” Lyons called Meruelo “a self-made man” and maybe the hardest working person he has encountered. Lyons attends Lakers games with Meruelo, a former high school player, and said buying the Hawks “is a life’s ambition for him, his life’s dream. “This is not just a business deal for him; it’s something much more than that,” he said. “He’ll put in a disproportionate amount of time into it. He’ll devote the money, time and effort to make it work.” Meruelo said he is returning to Atlanta in September and is looking to buy a house. Odds are, he gets a good deal. Atlanta Journal-Constitution

August 8, 2011 Updates

The sale price, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, is in excess of $300 million. This does not including the debt that Meruelo will assume from Atlanta Spirit, which will retain between 20 and 25 percent of the team initially. Meruelo will have the option of buying even more of the team from the group in the next few years. The team will remain in Atlanta, unlike the Hawks' former co-tenant at Philips, the NHL's Thrashers, which Atlanta Spirit sold to a group in Canada that moved the team to Winnipeg earlier this summer. NBA.com

August 7, 2011 Updates

The man who’s buying the Atlanta Hawks played basketball himself — at Don Bosco Technical Institute, a Catholic high school in Rosemead, Calif. Alex Meruelo became a starter for the Tigers as a junior, whereupon vocational opportunity intervened. “My father gave me the chance to run my own business,” Meruelo said, speaking on a conference call with two AJC writers. “He had a bridal-and-tuxedo business. He leased the tuxedo part to me.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“This is more than a dream for me,” Meruelo said. “It’s like when you think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice?’ ” Those four words — “Wouldn’t it be nice?” — were the title of the opening track on the greatest album (”Pet Sounds”) released by that California success story we know as the Beach Boys. Alex Meruelo has his own California story, and it’s downright harmonic, too. The son of Cuban immigrants, he stands to be the first Hispanic owner of an NBA franchise. “I’m a person who doesn’t give up,” Meruelo said. “I want to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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