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California businessman to buy majority interest in Atlanta Hawks

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Southern California businessman Alex Meruelo has reached an agreement to purchase a majority ownership in the Atlanta Hawks, making him the first principal Hispanic owner of a National Basketball Association (NBA) team, the Hawks said on Monday.

The sale to the Meruelo Group is subject to the approval of the NBA's Board of Governors.

Financial terms were not announced for the sale, which is expected to close in late 2011, the Hawks said in a news release.

Meruelo, 48, a New York-born son of Cuban immigrants, said the team would remain in Atlanta.

The team's current owner, Atlanta Spirit Group, earlier this year sold the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers to a Canadian group, which moved the team to Winnipeg.

The Hawks sale includes operating rights to Atlanta's Philips Arena, where the NBA team plays its home games.

"This is a dream come true for me," said Meruelo, the Meruelo Group's founder and chief executive officer who described himself as a lifelong basketball fan.

"I believe that both the Hawks and Philips Arena have unlimited potential for the future. I am honored to be a part of that future."

The Meruelo Group is a diversified holding and management company with holdings in banking and financial services, restaurants and food services, construction and engineering, real estate, hotel/casino operations and private equity.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)