LA businessman becomes NBA’s first Hispanic team owner

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks, a team now owned by Alex Meruelo, drives against Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Phillips Arena on May 12, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The owner of one of L.A.’s biggest pizza chains made sports history Monday as moved one step closer to becoming the NBA’s first Hispanic team owner. Alex Meruelo is purchasing the Atlanta Hawks.

Alex Meruelo’s parents left Cuba for Miami 50 years ago, moved to New York soon after and eventually settled in Southern California. But the 48-year-old Meruelo is all L.A.

The Cal State Long Beach grad was 21 when he opened the first of his 50 or so La Pizza Loca stores in L.A. in 1985. He owns the Meruelo Group, Fuji Food Products in Santa Fe Springs, L.A. Spanish language TV station KWHY, and now the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, too.

Meruelo says the purchase is a "dream come true," and says the Hawk's Phillips Arena has great potential.

Meruelo says the plan is yet to be approved by the NBA Board of Governors, but expects the deal will close later this year. His public purchase has quelled rumors of a Mystery Buyer for the team, a deal Meruelo says he wanted to keep quiet until it was official.

Remember the Sacramento Kings maybe moving to Orange County? You won’t hear about Meruelo moving the Hawks west. He’s told the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” that the team will stay in Atlanta, and that he’ll be a “hands-on” owner.

It figures the NBA’s first Hispanic owner’s first order of business might be to do what the Lakers did years ago: hire a Spanish language broadcaster. What else Meruelo does will have to wait, maybe a long time, until the NBA owners and players end their contract fight.

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