MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

Aaron as Hawks owner would be win for Atlanta

Aaron as Hawks owner would be win for Atlanta

ATLANTA -- You have Hank Aaron, and then you have ... well, let's be honest. None of the other names matter. Not around this city, where various media outlets say the list of those in a group trying to buy the local NBA team goes from Steve Kaplan (who?) to folks named Erick Thohir, Handy Purnomo Soetedjo and Jason Levien to their only partner who counts.

We're back to Henry Louis Aaron.

Whether we're talking about Atlanta, the state of Georgia, all of America or even much of the solar system, something holds true: Everybody has heard of Hammerin' Hank, the legendary Braves slugger who is baseball's true all-time career home runs leader in the minds of many. Aaron still lives in Atlanta, and he continues to serve as an executive for the Braves nearly four decades after his playing days. He reportedly is part of that group that includes the aforementioned individuals trying to buy the Atlanta Hawks.

Aaron has history with the Hawks, by the way. Hardly anybody knows this, but he was the catalyst behind one of the most lopsided NBA trades ever -- a deal which involved one of basketball's all-time greatest players.

Let's return to September 1982, when Aaron worked for Ted Turner, who at the time was the owner of the Braves and the Hawks. Since Aaron was one of Turner's favorite people, he also was on the Hawks' board of directors. They gathered with others back then in a Hawks meeting room, where Turner waffled on whether to allow his NBA management people to trade John Drew, Freeman Williams and a little bit of cash to Utah for a recently drafted kid named Dominique Wilkins.

Before Turner prepared to say, "No," he turned to Aaron.

"What do you think?" Turner said.

Aaron replied quickly and firmly, "If you have the chance to get Dominique Wilkins, get him."

The Hawks got him. Wilkins eventually became known as "The Human Highlight Film" after he perfected the spectacular dunk along the way to sitting in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

No wonder this big-money group in pursuit of the Hawks wanted Aaron as its big-time face. They envision an NBA world in Atlanta with the Baseball Hall of Famer as their version of Magic Johnson, the basketball great who is the most visible person involved with the billionaire owners of the Dodgers.

 

That said, in addition to Aaron's group, there reportedly are others with a recognizable name or two attempting to purchase the Hawks. One group features Grant Hill, the former Duke basketball star who also became a splendid NBA player, and Bryan Colangelo, a longtime executive in the league. Chris Webber was prolific in basketball at the college and pro levels, and he is part of another group. Yet another group has Dikembe Mutombo, who also prospered in the NBA, including a stint with the Hawks.

The news of Hill, Webber and Mutombo showing interest in the Hawks in some capacity surfaced soon after the franchise went up for sale a few weeks ago, and much of Atlanta responded with a yawn.

Nothing against those former NBA players. It's just that most things associated with the Hawks haven't excited the bulk of this region since Wilkins was traded in the middle of the 1994 season. Even now, with the Hawks soaring atop the league's Eastern Conference courtesy of one of the most torrid streaks in NBA history, they rank only 23rd in the 30-team league in average home attendance.

Atlanta is a city that craves star power (see Wilkins), and none of the Hawks' players rank high in All-Star voting. In addition, second-year coach Mike Budenholzer is effective, but he was an obscure NBA assistant for 19 years.

Not only that, the Hawks' ownership for the past 11 years has been a collection of faceless individuals.

In contrast, Turner was highly visible. During most of the Braves' record sprint to 14 consecutive division titles, he sat in the stands doing the tomahawk chop with the rest of the Atlanta fans. Turner did so because he enjoyed it and because he knew his audience. He knew Atlanta fans need somebody to admire before they even think about making a turnstile click. So it wasn't surprising that when word surfaced around town this week of Aaron's possible involvement in purchasing the Hawks, there was an epidemic of grins everywhere.

At 80 years old, Aaron remains huge.

There is Aaron's past as the most eloquent of survivors in the midst of adversity, and he was the secret architect of those consistently good Braves teams of the 1990s. Regarding the former, he ignored death threats and hate mail to slam his way toward April 8, 1974, when he broke Babe Ruth's career home run record with No. 715. Then came the latter, when Aaron was the farm director of the Braves during the 1980s, when they groomed the likes of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, David Justice and others for their historic run.

There also is Aaron's present as a splendid businessman and a noted philanthropist. He steadily reaps the financial benefits of the car dealerships and the restaurant franchises that he owned through the decades. But Aaron shares many of his riches. Among other things, he gives away thousands yearly in scholarship money to needy kids for everything from a college education to extracurricular activities that can lead to a vocation.

Atlanta fans cherish the thought of Aaron as a partial Hawks owner for all of those reasons, but mostly for this one: He's Hank Aaron.

That's enough.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.