The NBA has bid farewell to one of the most successful and respected owners the basketball league has ever known after Bruce Levenson sold the Atlanta HAwks franchise to Tony Ressler. The sale highlights the movement towards the arrival of billionaire owners who are now following the model laid out by those in other sports where the funding of wealthy owners had led to success. In the NBA, the movement towards billionaire owners owning a sports dynasty is something that is relatively new, but across the world a series of owners have popped up since the purchase of the Chelsea soccer club by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Bruce Levenson of Forbes arrived in the NBA as the owner of the Atlanta hawks and Atlanta Thrashers NHL franchise in 2004 for a reported $250 million. The Hawks had slipped in the standings after a relatively successful period where they had reached the playoffs on a number of occasions, only to meet the all conquering Chicago Bulls in round two. By 2004, the Hawks had registered the worst record in the NBA and continued this run even after the expansion of the NBA to include two new teams.
The turnaround of the Hawks was a huige task and was only completed by BRuce Levenson after a decade in charge that saw the franchise go from having the worst record in the NBA to having the best record by the end of the 2004 and 2005 regular seasons. Bruce Levenson also made sure the Atlanta Hawks moved into new areas of the community to push the franchise into the top level of the NBA it had not reached for a number of years. Community based programs included Levenson leading the franchise to become an important part of the Make A Wish Foundation and a number of other charitable programs.
The challenge for owners like Tony Ressler is to make sure their push for on court success does not see the community programs Bruce Levenson established be sacrificed over the course of the coming years. Levenson made sure the Hawks attended many commiunity programs and charitable events that may not have been a part of the schedule for many NBA franchises, such sa their visit to the US Holocaust Museum. Tony Ressler has already started to make changes to the staff in the front office of the HAwks and has made himself a favorite of many fans by retiring the number of legendary player Dikembe Mutombo. The arrival of Ressler marks the end of the journey in the NBA for Bruce Levenson, but sees the legacy of his achievements remain a major part of the history of the AtLanta Hawks organization.