Tony Ressler: Hawks owner learns, I was ‘schmuck in the room’

Billionaire Tony Ressler bought the Atlanta Hawks in 2015. In the time since, he has learned as he has gone along — and it hasn’t been easy.

Hawks Owner Tony Ressler (Todd Kirkland/AP Photo)

“Let’s cut the bulls—,” Ressler told The Athletic. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I can blame someone else, I can blame you, I can blame my wife. But there was only one schmuck in the room, and that was me.”

A group led by Ressler, an owner of the private equity and investment firm Ares and a real estate developer, reportedly paid approximately $850 million for the Hawks as the team was entering postseason play as the top seed in the Eastern Conference in April 2015.

In the next three seasons, the Hawks have gone 48-34 (fourth in Eastern Conference), 43-39 (fifth) and 24-58 (last). They’ve fired a general manager (Danny Ferry), watched as another moved from GM to coach to unexpectedly parting ways with the team (Mike Budenholzer), and signed Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million deal that resulted in the center being traded to Charlotte after just one season.

“For two years, I was a deer in the headlights,” Ressler, the team’s majority owner, told The Athletic. “It’s like the story of a poker game when you’re looking around, and you wonder who the fish is. If you don’t know the answer, it’s probably you. I don’t want to blame somebody else because I was the schmuck, and I didn’t have to do it. I realized the mistake the minute after I did it.”

But things are turning around for Ressler as he learns his way. He has bought a G League team to help develop players, got private financing for a $50 million practice facility and got public funding for a $200 million facelift to the newly renamed State Farm Arena.

On the court, he acquired No. 5 pick Trae Young and a first-round pick in the 2019 draft in exchange for sending No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks. Ressler dismissed the notion that he made the deal for marketing reasons as nothing more than a “rumor.”

Young, meanwhile, is averaging 21.5 points, 7.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds after the first four games of his NBA career.

Ressler said it also helps that general manager Travis Schlenk and coach Lloyd Pierce have a shared version.

The Hawks are off to a 2-2 start this season, averaging 117 points per game, and host the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.

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