Posted: Wednesday August 17, 2005 12:36PM; Updated: Wednesday August 17, 2005 11:59PM
Following Belkin's decision to file the restraining order, another co-owner, Michael Gearon Sr., jumps into fracas, calling out Belkin in the papers a day after the restraining order is filed for trying to operate the franchise on the cheap. "There is a broader issue here, which is the future of the franchise" said Gearon Sr., who functioned as the Hawks president and general manager in a past life. Gearon Jr. added, "I think Steve's goal is to run the Hawks on a very low budget," Mullin, too, had testified to as much, in a sworn affidavit saying that Belkin recommended a Hawks payroll of $32 million -- more than $5 million under the minimum required by the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement. (They'd later settle at $48 million.)
Johnson's five-year, $70 million contract likely would have sunk Belkin's skinflint plans, but Gearon Sr. was convinced it was a good deal for both sides, heralding it quite modestly as "the most critical free-agent acquisition in the history of the franchise." The second biggest? "Dan Roundfield [back in '78]." I'm not making this up.
Episode IV: I'll Take David Stern to Block
The laughs didn't stop there. After rejecting the Hawks' bid to jettison Belkin on Aug. 10, a Boston judge makes an attempt at empathy. "We have a history of bad trades in this city," the judge offered. "You know ... Harry Frazee?"
The judge's decision granted Belkin a preliminary injunction to keep his partners from removing him as the team's governor until further notice from him or another appellate court. Knight took the verdict stoically, shrugging off Belkin's attempt at a handshake in front of the courthouse steps to produce one of the more spectacular disses ever caught on film. "There's no reason for us to engage in conversations," Knight would tell the AJC a day earlier. "He's not someone I can trust."
On his way out of the courtroom, Belkin passed a note to reporters -- "I am pleased that the judge's ruling has provided clarity that we all needed regarding our decision-making and governance structure so that we can get back to the task of building a championship-caliber team." -- before retreating to an owners meeting in an adjacent conference room inside the courthouse. "It was like every meeting we have," Gearon Jr. said. "Steve doesn't say anything; we vote; he dissents; majority rules." A day later, NBA commissioner David Stern votes with Belkin's partners to support his removal as the team's governor in favor of Gearon Jr. Johnson the sets off for Atlanta in search of a new house.
Episode V: How Much Worse Can It Get?
After Stern's decision, the judge in the case removes the injunction, freeing the eight to remove the one, Belkin. Needless to say, this thing doesn't look like it has much hope of resolving amicably. (If last week's meeting between Belkin's and his partners' lawyers at league headquarters in New York is any indication, both sides appear headed for a buyout.) At this point even if Belkin rescinds his trade veto, the damage is already done.
With the Johnson deal still unconsummated, there's no telling who will cross whom next. Don't take my word for it. Just ask Kenny Smith -- a man who, as an analyst for TNT, knows a thing or two about drama: "The whole thing is just a travesty in miscommunication," Smith told me. "It never gets to that point with any other team. Any good franchise is not gonna allow this to happen."