Meruelo has agreement to purchase Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) - An emotional Alex Meruelo had to fight back tears as he talked about what it to means to be the NBA’s first Hispanic team owner.

His voice cracked as he talked about having dreamed of this day.

“I think we all do as boys _ that I would one day play in the NBA,” said Meruelo, a California developer and pizza chain owner.

Meruelo, the son of Cuban immigrants, vowed to do everything he can to bring a championship to Atlanta if his deal to become the majority owner of the Hawks is approved by the NBA.

He became emotional again when he slipped on a red Hawks cap.

“I wasn’t quite fast enough, tall enough or quick enough, so those dreams didn’t quite get me that far,” he said. “But those dreams brought me the burning desire to be involved in the NBA. It’s something I’ve always wanted my entire life to somehow be a part of the NBA.”

Meruelo, 48, will have controlling interest of more than 50 percent of the Hawks, who will remain in Atlanta. The deal also includes operating rights to Philips Arena.

Citing the NBA lockout, Meruelo would not discuss details of the agreement, including the purchase price.

He confirmed members of the current ownership group, including majority owners Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr., would retain minority shares “for a period of time.”

Levenson and Gearon did not attend Monday’s news conference.

Meruelo said “it’s a privilege and I’m honored” to be the league’s first Hispanic majority owner.

“I think it means a lot,” he said. “Me being Hispanic, being first is really touching. I hope to do the right thing. I just want to make sure I make them proud.”

He answered a few questions from a Spanish-speaking reporter in Spanish after apologizing “I’m not the best, but I’ll do my best.”

He said he has been influenced by Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno, who is of Mexican descent and is the first Hispanic owner of a major sports team in the United States.

“There’s no question, he’s a role model,” Meruelo said. “He’s the first Major League Baseball owner. He’s done a great job. My hat’s off to Arte. I’ve never met him. I look forward to hopefully meeting him soon. I can just say he’s done a great job with the Angels. I’m very proud of him. I only hope to do the same.”

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