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“I wasn’t quite fast enough, tall enough or quick enough, so those dreams didn’t quite get me that far,” Meruelo 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 never considered buying the Thrashers before they moved to Winnipeg, and he acknowledged that purchasing an NBA team during the lockout was a concern.

“You’re always hesitant, right?” Meruelo said. “It’s the unknown that makes you uncomfortable, but at the same time I just see a tremendous amount of opportunity and growth in this sport.”

He heads the Meruelo Group, a Downey, Calif.-based investment firm. The firm recently acquired the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nev., for a reported $42.45 million.

Meruelo also founded La Pizza Loca, which has over 50 franchised and company-owned restaurants in Southern California, catering to the Latino community, according to the company website.

“It’s really a dual thing, the opportunity and the love of the sport that brought me so close to this,” he said. “I would say I’m a very hands-on individual. I’m very tied in to every business I’m involved with. I will do no different here.”

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