Surrounded by a flock of family and friends decked out in fiery-red Atlanta Hawks lids, Steve Belkin is holding court in a Madison Square Garden luxury box, which is more than the Hawks can say. The team isn't soaring against the mediocre New York Knicks, but Belkin is--after all, the Hawks aren't just any lackluster squad but his lackluster squad. After 20 years of trying to get a piece of the NBA, he bought his own team.
"I'm a happy man," says Belkin, 56, owner of $200 million financial services and travel holding company Trans National Group in Boston. Belkin's long journey to the professional hardwood began in 1983, when he tried to purchase his then favorite team, the Boston Celtics; he bid again in 2000, but balked at the $360 million price tag.
But nothing was more disappointing than his failed 2002 bid--with Larry Bird--for the now Charlotte Bobcats. The seemingly done deal fell apart, and the team was acquired by BET media mogul Robert Johnson. Fortunately for Belkin, a struggling Time Warner was dumping the Hawks, the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, and their home, Philips Arena, for $250 million. When the deal is finalized, Belkin will be majority owner with a 33% stake. (Five principals and Time Warner, which retained 15%, are the other owners.)
Belkin takes that mantle seriously. "Right away he came to practice and brought in the best physical therapist in the country," says forward Chris Crawford. He signed off on the trade that brought bad-boy forward Rasheed Wallace from Portland, with a likely plan to jettison his contract, free up room under the salary cap, and rebuild the team. The Hawks are thumped soundly tonight, but Belkin, more than ever, loves this game.