Over the weekend an email written by Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson with potentially racist overtones was leaked to the public. The leaker? None other than Levenson himself, who also announced that he was putting his portion of the team up for sale. Confused? You should be.
While it’s clear that the NBA ownership is collectively walking on eggshells after the long overdue expulsion of Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was forced out of the league based on damning audio recordings, Levenson’s email, while including some questionable passages (you can read the whole thing here), seems to be of a slightly different bent. “[W]hen digging into why our season ticket base is so small, [I] was told it is because 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,” he wrote. That’s not really a surprise to anyone — the Hawks have always had a reputation for lackluster home attendance, and most season ticket holders to the NBA are white. Then, in Levenson’s words, he took a look around and a lightbulb went off.
“[The audience is] 70 pct black; the cheerleaders are black; the music is hip hop; at the bars it’s 90 pct black; there are few fathers and sons at the games; we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel,” Levenson wrote. “Then [I] start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience… My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant (sic) season ticket base.”
While the racial implications of his email are not up for debate, the rationale and reasoning behind some of his theories are worth examining. NBA legend (and recent Time magazine go-to for anything to do with race and sports) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinks Levenson’s “worst crime is misguided white guilt.” The center read the email and believes that “Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats,” although he also describes the Hawks owner as making “cringe-worthy assumptions,” which is accurate, to say the least.
According to ESPN, the Hawks ownership launched their own internal investigation after a scouting report on Luol Deng held a racially charged comment. Deng, a free agent this summer, had talked to the Hawks before ultimately signing with the Miami Heat. Apparently convinced that the email in question would certainly leak to the public at some point in the future, the Atlanta owner decided to oust himself and make the team’s sale public, putting together an apologetic statement that the team released Sunday. Whether Levenson was already preparing himself to sell the team before the email was unearthed is unknown.