Timeline: The Atlanta Spirit’s decade of dysfunction

March 31, 2004: NBA's Hawks, NHL's Thrashers and operating rights to Philips Arena are acquired by Atlanta Spirit, LLC from Turner Broadcasting.

July 30, 2005: The legal chaos begins. Part-owner Steve Belkin sends an email to his co-owners, informing them he has instructed Hawks general manager Billy Knight not to include the team's 2006 first-round draft pick in a trade for guard Joe Johnson. That sets off a testy volley of emails among the owners, all except Belkin backing the deal. The incident culminates in a conference call during which Knight asks that his "intention not to speak to Steve under any circumstances going forward" be duly noted.

Aug. 1, 2005: Belkin makes it clear he'll use his authority as the Hawks' NBA governor to block the Johnson trade, informing the league that "any representative of the Atlanta Hawks attempting to make such a trade" is unauthorized to do so.

Aug. 4, 2005: After part-owner Bruce Levenson calls for an ownership vote to remove Belkin as governor, Belkin gets a temporary restraining order from a Boston court, blocking his removal.

Aug. 7, 2005: Knight lashes out at Belkin, saying the owner's opposition to the trade on the basis of including a draft pick is "a ploy" to hold the payroll to "a bare minimum." Knight adds: "He's not someone I can trust."

Aug. 9, 2005: Before a court hearing in Boston, Belkin extends his hand to Knight. The GM refuses to shake it. The judge issues a preliminary injunction blocking Belkin's removal as governor.

Aug. 11, 2005: NBA commissioner David Stern submits an affidavit to the Boston court, siding with the owners who want to oust Belkin.

Aug. 12, 2005: The court dissolves the injunction, freeing the Hawks to remove Belkin as governor with five business days' notice.

Aug. 16, 2005: Negotiations heat up for a buyout of Belkin's 30 percent stake by the other owners at a price to be determined by a series of three appraisals. Lawyers exchange drafts of deals, finally agreeing on one in which Belkin would choose the first appraiser. Either side objecting to the first appraisal would choose the second appraiser. The NBA would draw the name of a third appraiser from a hat if either side objected to the results of the second appraisal. After three appraisals, the final price would be the mean appraisal between the highest and lowest. In all the back-and-forth, there is no discussion over who would pick the second appraiser if both sides object to the first, an omission that would lead to much trouble.

Aug. 17, 2005: Part-owners Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Michael Gearon Jr. reject a request by Belkin that they provide a $100 million letter of credit during the buyout process to secure the purchase. They make a counter-proposal: a clause in the contract stipulating that if they don't fulfill their obligation to purchase Belkin's stake, he would have the right to buy them out at cost.

Aug. 19, 2005: The buyout agreement is signed and announced. Belkin resigns as governor. Hawks-Thrashers employees give the other owners a standing ovation. The Johnson trade is completed. The chaos seems over. It is not.

Nov. 23, 2005: The first appraiser retained by Belkin, CitiGroup Private Bank, submits its report, putting the value of Belkin's stake at about $88 million. One minute after receiving the 70-page report, Belkin files an objection and claims the right to choose the second appraiser. Ten minutes later, the other owners also file an objection and claim the right to choose the second appraiser. By day's end, Belkin files a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Montgomery County (Md.) Circuit Court, contending the appraisal was "grossly undervalued" because of interference by the other owners. The legal battle will rage for years, including at one point a decision that would allow Belkin to buy out the others.

May 28, 2010: Gearon is fined $25,000 for tampering after he told reporters he would give then-free agent LeBron James a maximum contract "in a heartbeat."

Dec. 23, 2010: The Atlanta Spirit settle a six-year, high-profile legal battle by buying out Steve Belkin's 30 percent share in the organization.

Feb. 16, 2011: Gearon says there is a "sense of urgency" to find a buyer interested in keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta.

May 31, 2011: Atlanta Spirit and True North Sports Entertainment reach a sale agreement to purchase and relocate the Thrashers to Winnipeg to begin play in the 2011-12 season.

Aug. 8, 2011: Los Angeles business man Alex Meruelo says that he has a "definitive" agreement to buy a majority stake in the Hawks, subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors.

Sept. 13, 2011: Atlanta Spirit and King & Spalding settle a legal malpractice suit. The Atlanta Spirit alleged that the law firm negotiated a "fatally flawed" contract in 2005 that caused a planned buyout of Steve Belkin to "break down into chaos," triggering the prolonged battle between Belkin and the other owners.

Nov. 5, 2011: Meruelo's deal to buy the Hawks was mutually terminated after he failed to meet economic conditions placed on the deal by the league.

May 13, 2012: Gearon is fined $35,000 by the NBA for public criticism of officials and making negative comments about Celtics forward Kevin Garnett.

June 25, 2012: Danny Ferry is hired as president of basketball operations and general manager, replacing Rick Sund.

August 25, 2012: Levenson writes an email to Ferry on the lack of attendance at Philips Arena. Included in several inflammatory remarks, Levenson wrote: "My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base." The email would remain internal for more than two years.

Oct. 28, 2012: Levenson says the team ownership is "extremely" fortunate the deal with Meruelo fell through. He will serve as the team's NBA Governor with a controlling interest in the team.

June 11, 2013: The Hawks are fined an undisclosed amount by the NBA for tampering a week after the AJC obtained letters sent to perspective ticket buyers that mentioned pending free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

April 14, 2014: Turner executive Steve Koonin is hired as CEO to be the new face of the franchise. He holds an ownership share in the team.

June 6, 2014: The Hawks hold a conference call with owners and management to discuss potential free agents. During the call, racist remarks are made about Luol Deng by Ferry, who later says he was reading from a background report.

June 12, 2014: Gearon sends a letter to Levenson complaining about the nature of the remarks, noting that Ferry said of Deng: "He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back." The letter states that Ferry completed the slur by describing the player as "a two-faced liar and cheat." Gearon calls for Levenson to ask for Ferry's resignation or fire him. The comment and the letter spark an independent investigation into Ferry and the entire Hawks organization. The letter and investigation would remain within the organization for several months.

Sept. 7, 2014: Levenson abruptly announces that he will sell his share in the team after he self-reported his two-year-old email to the NBA. He announces that Koonin will oversee all team operations. Later that night, Koonin relates the timeline on Ferry's comments and the discovery of the Levenson email. He said that Ferry would would keep his position but faces an undisclosed discipline for not editing the background report before speaking, per the results of the internal investigation.

Sept. 8, 2014: A copy of the June 12 letter written by Gearon regarded Ferry is made public. With it comes more details of internal strife in the organization. Ferry reaches out to Deng by phone.

Sept. 9, 2014: Ferry issues a statement saying: "I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation." Deng issues a statement condemning the comments and saying: "Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting." The NBA reiterates its stance that it will not discipline Ferry above and beyond the Hawks' sanctions.

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