August 9th, 2011
11:39 AM ET

Path to a dream: From a family that fled Castro to first Hispanic NBA owner

The new owner of the Atlanta Hawks (pending NBA approval) faced the media with two surprising confessions: He’d never held a news conference before, and he was very nervous.

In fact, it took three tries just to get the obligatory Hawks cap on his head. He's not the typical high-powered, mega-wealthy kind of guy you might expect. He had something unexpected: humility.

To understand where that comes from, you have to understand where he came from.

Growing up, Alex Meruelo loved basketball. He was a starter for his California Catholic high school team. He loved the sport, but he was smart enough to know he wasn’t going to make a living at it. So when his dad offered for him to take over the family tuxedo business, you could say Meruelo’s basketball career came to a formal end.

This son of Cuban immigrants quickly found that although he was good at basketball, he was great at business. The empire he has created makes everything from pizzas to wind turbines. He got rich and got back to basketball. He will be the first Hispanic majority owner of an NBA team.

And I asked whether he knew, when he was negotiating the deal, that would be the headline.

"I’m not sure if you really think about it. It’s something that just happens. It happens," he said. "It’s something that, there’s no question that it’s a big responsibility. It’s something that at the same time, I’m very privileged. I’m honored. I want to make sure I do a good job.”

Media reports tell of his father leaving Cuba, setting up a new life in America. It's the American dream. So for Meruelo, emotions were likely to factor in.

"Emotion is a tremendous part of this deal. And I am trying to contain myself as much a possible because to explain it, how I feel or what I believe, is very hard to put into words right now. Very hard," he said. "It’s a dream come true, and Atlanta, I am so happy to be here. I’m happy to be part of this organization, and I am so committed to making sure we do the right thing, and I want to make sure that I own the respect. The loyalty of the Atlanta Hawks fans is something that is even more important to me.”

Does he feel he now has a sense of responsibility to the Hispanic community?

“Of course, when you put it like that, there is no question you have a sense of responsibility. I plan to make sure that I fulfill my sense of responsibility and to make sure that their voice is heard," he said. "It’s something that, again, I’m taken aback by, and I’m very proud of it, and I am very humbled.”

There was a moment during the first news conference when Meruelo seemed to get choked up. What had gotten to him?

"You want to see me cry, don’t you?" he quipped. "I’m extremely elated, and I am trying so hard to control my emotions, but I am sure you will see them on the court. You will see them in the games."

As a reporter, you can become jaded about interviewing important people. Sometimes, they use the interview as a way to advance their own agendas. This was not one of those times.

This was a kid whose mom and dad fled Castro and communism, a kid who loved a game but had to give it up to take on the family business. A kid who made it big and bought a team with hopes of making it great. I didn’t really want to make him cry. But it happened when I asked what his father would say.

“I’m sure he’s very proud of me," he simply said.

Each word was spoken haltingly, and his eyes were brimming with tears.

It was said in a way that made you realize, for Alex Meruelo, buying the Hawks was a big deal in more ways than one.

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Filed under: Basketball • Sports
soundoff (283 Responses)
  1. LatinLover

    Carlos Slim Owns everybody if we talk about wealth even USA latest richest man *cough* gate.
    developing Country like Mexico ( RCA,SONY,PHILLIPS,TELMX, GOOGLE, MOVMX,PEMEX) where rich people invest money
    to save tax cut "invest on Mexico before is too late.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      OK Mexico does have the wealthies man in the planet. Yet most Mexicans are so poor and uneducated. Why is that? why can they get college degrees and have the motivation and drive like cubans. Maybe is the fact that most Mexicans are brown native american indians while those Cubans are white.

      August 10, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Richard

    Say goodnight to the bad guy!

    August 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jane

    Felix Sabates was the first Hispanic owner of an NBA team – he was the original owner of the Charlotte Hornets (1988)

    August 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • dumb reporters

      thank you someone that actually knows what they are talking about ! ! !

      August 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalinda

      good for him, I can see his father came to this country long ago, unlike the newly Cubans who are arriving to this County now, they are use to be taken care by Castro, so , when they arrive here, they do not know how to work or do not want to work, free loaders.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adrian

      Felix Sabates was the first minority stake owner of Hispanic origin; this story is about the first MAJORITY Hispanic owner. When you try to dispute people's facts, actually have the facts.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerald

      I am very happy for him, that shows that not all Latios/Hispanic people in this Country are illegals, mostly are hard working people who follow the laws and believe in family values.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alicia

    Let's make a huge story because he's hispanic.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • R Calling

      Why are you reading it? It is not a huge story to me, just a story to know the new owner of the team I like. But apparently it is huge to you.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      YEap why is that. Nobody makes a big deal out of Cameron Diaz. LOL They just happen to be white hispanics instead of brown native american indians.

      August 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    It's about time! Cubans have done very little for this country. Other than the city of Miami, Cubans have nothing to show – I mean they're not entertainers, athletes, journalists, poets, etc. Outside of Canseco and Estefan, is there anyone noteworhty. I'm strugging to come up with names. Let me tell you what they've done. In the country of Spain they're despised, they've built Miami with drug money, they're not comfortable living anywhere outside of Miami, they believe that they're superior to other latinos which leads to them being hated. The list goes on and on and on. I'm for this person truly. Hopefully, he can do something worthwhile.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sal

      You are so full of s*** dude.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      I don't know which Cubans you personally know or relate to that hate other people and do nothing and only live in Miami. That is a very interesting stereotype you have in your mind. I'm cuban – I do not hate other latinos, in fact my best friends are from Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil... Did you ever heard of Celia Cruz, Albita Rodriguez, Lincoln Diaz Balart, Gloria Stephan, etc? if you did not, you can come out of the rock you have been living in these las few decades. I do not know of ANY race or country that doesn't have stupid people or stereotypes or hate, that is part of the human race, but to generalize like that is at best stupid. If you want to know more about Cuba and Cubans I invite you to visit Orlando, New Jersey, North Carolina and just about any state – you will be surprised how many and how nice we are 😉

      August 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      BTW you are so WRONG!! How about these names.
      TO name a few DESI ARNAZ, I LOVE LUCY

      August 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Terry

    Mark Cuban is Hispanic and owns a team!!???

    August 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • piricuacokiller

      Russian Jew – real family name is Chabenisky.

      August 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      really, thought he was hispanic. He looks!

      August 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CJ

    ...who cares? If a monkey or a turtle started running an NBA team, then I'd be impressed. Who cares what race the person is?

    August 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • MIghty7

      Hispanic is not a race you ignorant yokel.

      August 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NYC Conservative

    Who cares what race the owner is. Just another example of racism when the news blares it as hispanic owner like Moses parted the sea.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cristine

      To those who think of Hispanics or Latinos, as a race, allow me to explain that being Hispanic is not a race... it is a heritage, there are Hispanics that are caucasians, others are black, and others are indians. There are Hispanics that are descendants of Italians, of French or Irish, just like the regular American which may be a descendant of Polish, and Irish, and Swedish, and French etc). It's part of the US melting pot which makes the USA so great. Open your eyes, and your minds...

      August 9, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jose

    This is why this country is declining, since we don't have the foggiest clue as to what is going on in other countries. We need to wake up, because a major transfer of wealth is happening between this country and the rest of the world including Latin America.

    Once we acknowledge this, then maybe we can move forward.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adrian

      YOU SIR are very correct!!!!

      August 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Endangered Baby Gorilla


    August 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mamilinda

    The new Cubans who are arriving to the US, are a bunch of lazy people, they do not want to work, they are free loaders, compared to the old Cubans who came to this country many years ago and changed Miami, the newly arrived are used to Castro regim where they were giving everything free.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bert

      that is so true, its sad & I am a Cuban American Citizen.

      August 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jessica in Miami

    Cubans , the white Cubans are the most racist in the US, if you understand Spanish and watch the Spanish talk shows you will see how racists they are. they do not like blacks, and Indians.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalinda

      I agree, the white Cubans ( mostly all of them) look down the other races such as Indians, Blacks and Asians.
      Specially the white Cuban women. They dispite all people who have dark skin.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Selfish Meme

      Worse are the certain Mexican population that come from all shades, who not only hate African Americans and are marginalizing them in their own communities, kicking them out – look up Azusa 13 which is indicative of a whole community not gangs, BUT who ALSO have inter-latino racist issues with OTHER latino's.

      Thats worse.

      I have NEVER heard anything racist coming from Cuban's towards their own or non-whites in their community. Never and I have been around them most of my life.

      But oh boy, the other one I mentioned, if you all only knew.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      SHow me a Mexican soap opera and tell me how dark indians you see there that reminds you of the workers at homedepot?? ZERO!!

      August 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. crackface

    OMG THE FIRST HISPANIC!?!?!?!?? Stop the presses this is front page headline material here. Wowsers. I mean wow, the first hispanic nba owner. Lets hold our lighters in the air and sing com bi ya my lorrrrrrrrd, com bi yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Omg we shall over come... we shall over come... we shall overcome some dayyyyyy. Weeee are the championssss my friiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiend. Gee willikers, this is like finding out bin laden was killed. So noteworthy, so epic, so awesome. The first hispanic, i mean wow, what a headline. you cant make this stuff up.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ghybr

    DAMN this guy is from d-town( downey) i think ive been to his house for a party

    August 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JH

    White guy.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
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