Atlanta Hawks, Antony Ressler-led group agree on sale for $850 million

ATLANTA -- A group headed by billionaire Antony Ressler has agreed to purchase the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night during the first half of the Hawks' playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets.

The sale price was not released, but sources said Ressler's group would pay $850 million.

The deal will be financed by cash and assumption of some debt and also includes operating control of Philips Arena, sources said.

"We are honored and thrilled to have been chosen to become the new stewards of the Hawks," Ressler said in a statement. "We respect the NBA's approval process and, accordingly, can say no more other than we are incredibly excited by the Hawks' success and wish them luck in the playoffs."

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin and coach Mike Budenholzer will be part of the long-term plans of the new ownership group, sources close to the process told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.

In his news conference prior to Wednesday night's game, Budenholzer said he was aware of the reports of the sale, but was focused on basketball.

"I think everyone is very, very respectful that today we have Game 2 of the first round and that our focus is on the game," Budenholzer said. "I'm fully aware of a lot of things that are going on around us, but there's nothing I have to do besides prepare for tonight and make sure our team is prepared and focused."

Ressler, an owner of the private equity and investment firm Ares and a real estate developer, was one of three finalists in the Los Angeles Clippers' sale last spring. The group's bid of $1.2 billion fell short of the $2 billion purchase price submitted by Steve Ballmer.

The purchasing group led by Ressler also includes former NBA All-Star Grant Hill, Clayton Dubilier & Rice partner Rick Schnall, Spanx owner Sara Blakely and her husband, entrepreneur Jesse Itzler.

The Hawks went on the market in January following the publication in September of an email written by principal owner Bruce Levenson in 2012 that expressed concern that large numbers of African-American spectators at his team's games were driving away more affluent, middle-aged, white suburban fans.

"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," Levenson wrote.

Levenson was effectively forced into exile, along with general manager Danny Ferry, whose racially insensitive comments on a conference call were also made public.

The Hawks, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, lead the Nets 2-0 in their first-round series following Wednesday's 96-91 victory.