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Hawks’ long championship drought is ‘going to change,’ owner Ressler vows

NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow moderates a panel discussion with (l-r) Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin.
NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow moderates a panel discussion with (l-r) Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin.

The Hawks unveiled plans Wednesday night for how they’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise’s arrival in Atlanta. But principal owner Tony Ressler drew the biggest ovation of the night when he noted the need to correct a failing of the team’s first half-century here.

“This is our 50th anniversary, and this is a team that hasn’t won a championship in those 50 years,” Ressler said. “And if there is anything any of us have to say about it, that’s going to change.”

» Also: Hawks unveil throwback uniforms

When the Hawks will be in position to contend for a playoff berth, let alone a championship, is unclear, with the team in the apparently early stages of a massive teardown/rebuild of the roster. So, most of the focus at Wednesday’s season preview event in West Midtown was on a thoroughly renovated arena and 50th-anniversary plans. (The Hawks’ Atlanta debut was on Oct. 16, 1968.)

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said of the remade Philips Arena: "We think (it) is going to be the best sports and entertainment venue in all of Atlanta." Then he unveiled commemorative powder-blue throwback uniforms harkening to 1968 and a 50th-anniversary gold-and-black specialty court on which the team will play nine games during the 2018-19 season.

“We wanted to build an arena for the experience economy, (for) a very different customer than has populated sports buildings in the past,” Koonin said after showing a video that highlighted changes in the arena.

The Hawks’ home opener is on Oct. 24 against the Dallas Mavericks, but Koonin said the remade arena’s “grand opening” will be four days earlier.

“We will open for the entire city of Atlanta to come celebrate and see the new arena with a walk-through, inviting the public in on Oct. 20th,” he said.

Koonin said construction work is going on “20 hours a day, seven days a week” at the arena, with as many as 800 workers on site daily.

“Sixty-four days to go until it’s got to be done,” Koonin said, adding that the $192.5 million project remains “on schedule and on budget.”

Near the end of the night’s program, Ressler was asked by moderator Kristen Ledlow of NBA TV how he sees the franchise and the city 10 years from now.

Ressler began his answer with an apparent nod to the Hawks’ desire for development around the arena. “I think you’re going to see a truly extraordinary downtown that is going to have enormous development and success,” he said. “We’ll see folks coming two hours before games and staying two hours after.”

And then Ressler again addressed what is missing from the Hawks’ Atlanta history.

“At the end of the day, as my wife likes to remind me, she has already picked out the parade route of this championhip,” he said. “Ten years from now, we’re going to be ... enormously proud of the franchise that we own and have built. … It’s time that we focus on how to win a championship as opposed to compete in the NBA, and that is precisely where we’re going.”

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