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Friday, June 9, 2006
Judge: Belkin can buy out Hawks, Thrashers

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Steve Belkin has the right to take over the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers from his former co-owners, a Maryland judge ruled Friday.

The Boston-based Belkin is entitled to buy out the Atlanta Spirit LLC group for the Hawks, Thrashers and operating rights to Philips Arena, Montgomery County (Md.) Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson ruled.

But in a statement to The Associated Press released late Friday by Atlanta Spirit spokesman Tom Hughes on behalf of the owners, Johnson's ruling will be appealed.

"We have just received the court's 23-page decision,'' said the statement, attributed to the group but no individual owner. "The decision is wrong, both on the law and on the fact. We will review our options with our legal counsel but we expect that the decision will be overturned on appeal.''

Belkin was forced out of the ownership group following a bitter and public dispute over the Hawks' decision to trade Boris Diaw and two first-round draft picks to the Phoenix Suns for Joe Johnson.

Eric Johnson ruled the teams' seven other owners didn't abide by the terms of an agreement to buy out Belkin. Johnson said the group's actions triggered Belkin's right to buy them out.

The Atlanta Spirit ownership group was preparing to release a memo to staff members Friday night, saying business would continue as usual while the ruling is appealed.

The ownership group had the support of NBA commissioner David Stern in forcing Belkin out. One of the Atlanta-based owners, Michael Gearon Jr., replaced Belkin as the NBA governor in the group.

Gearon couldn't be reached for comment Friday night.

Belkin was the only owner who didn't support Hawks general manager Billy Knight in the deal for Joe Johnson. Belkin contented the Hawks were giving up too much for the guard, who signed a five-year deal with Atlanta worth about $70 million.

Diaw, a neglected backup in Atlanta, became a productive starter for the Suns. Johnson led Atlanta with 20.2 points and 6.5 assists per game.