On Sunday, September 7, news broke that Hawks owner Bruce Levenson would sell his controlling interest in the basketball team due to a very racially charged email.
Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson will be selling controlling interest in the team after an email from 2012 surfaced where he made disparaging, racist remarks about black fans and patrons.
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NBC-affiliate WXIA, 11 Alive to most Atlantans, reports the owner came to the decision through his own process and self-examination.
"After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise."
In a statement to the press, the owner was "angry at myself" for stating such "inflammatory nonsense" in effort to find answers on the lack of diversity in crowd. In this case, a lack of white representation on screen. Which is a very problematic statement to make in a city that’s found an uneasy civility over civil rights.
"We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them."
The statement “subtle biases and preconceptions” comes across as inflammatory, as well. As a micro-aggressive statement, there’s as a lot of blame taken away by making biases common place. He pointed out the problem in his own bursts of racism by saying he couldn’t afford to validate the actions.
Interestingly, Levenson announced he would push for the new ownership of the Clippers in April. "I strongly believe that the league has to have a zero-tolerance policy against racism and discrimination in any form."
However, the news today did in fact back up his previous assertions.
"I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true. That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA."
As the owner of the team for the past decade, there has been a lot of discussion in the city over the treatment of Hawks fans and the team in general.
Hockey fans feel slighted due to the perception the owners sold the team to focus solely on the basketball team and the profits that basketball supposedly returned. Mentioned here because in the 2012 email, Levenson quoted the disposable income of white Thrasher fans as being "nearly triple what they are at Hawks games."
And the number comparison is flat-out bizarre since the hockey team was sold and relocated to Winnipeg in 2011. Looking at the statement provided, if the Thrashers brought in the predominately white demographic with higher disposable income, why sell the team?
He seems to be confusing his targets within his own demographics.
Levenson also went on to blame the late arrival of fans for the empty looking arena at the beginning of games. The lack of fans in the stands seems to imply a lack of community team spirit.
Loud cheering and booing is especially important when selling ads and product partnership to large corporations on television ads.
And he openly admitted the Hawks organization and NBA decided the best course of action in creating a more active looking arena was to give away tickets. Tickets were given “predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience,” which upset the owner.
He also seems to congratulate the rowdy college crowd while saying the hip-hop and gospel music felt disruptive to the target demographic of middle-aged, white males. “We can't get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league.”
In fact, he flat out says, "My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base."
He goes on talk about the crime perception around Philips Arena, and how the white base may be scared to attend after dark with "some people saying the arena is in the wrong place." Ironically saying the idea of crime was "just racist garbage" and was nothing more than "code for there are too many blacks at the games."
Following Levenson’s logic pattern, the Hawks organization needs to mirror other NBA demographics manages to slight the wealthy, affluent black fans who contribute a large portion of game time profits.
The letter goes on for quite a while with very obvious and coded messaging for racial stereotyping. Overall, the basic premise is black fans provide a good source of income but will not draw in the unwritten-but-desired white, male demographic.
In the meantime, Hawks CEO Steven Koonin "will oversee all team operations and take all organizational reports as we proceed with the sale process.”
While the action to sell seems to be guided by Bruce Levenson, it's obvious that Adam Silver has created a very clear line of no tolerance on discriminatory behavior, like racism, within the NBA league.
And in April, the Hawks owner told the press that "I have faith that Commissioner Adam Silver will act in what's the best interest of the league."
What the selling means for Atlanta Hawks fans and residents remains to be seen.
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Perhaps someone like Steve Ballmer will step in and buy the controlling interest of the franchise, but the guarantees are not there. And whoever buys the team will have to actively work at regaining the trust of the city, fans, and residents. The battle for Atlanta won't be easy in a town where basketball's one of the dominant sports.