Atlanta Hawks owner to sell team after racial emails

Agence France-Presse
Atlanta Hawks owner to sell team after racial emails
Months after a racism scandal forced the LA Clippers owner to sell his team, the Atlanta Hawks majority owner is putting his team on the market

NEW YORK – Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said Sunday he’ll sell his controlling interest in the NBA team in the wake of racially charged remarks he made in an e-mail two years ago.

Levenson’s decision to voluntarily sell comes after the NBA’s ugly fight to remove Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after racist remarks he made to a girlfriend became public.

After months of legal wrangling and resistance by Sterling, the Los Angeles club’s $2 billion sale to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer was made official in August.

Levenson, who has been the Hawks’ controlling owner since 2004, clearly hopes to spare the NBA a similar episode.

“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,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

He said chief executive Steve Koonin will oversee all team operations and take all organizational reports as the sale process proceeds.

Levenson said he was “truly embarrassed” by the words in the e-mail, which he said were “inappropriate and offensive.”

Writing to Hawks President Danny Ferry, Levenson tries to address issues relating to low attendance and the need for more season ticket holders and corporate sponsorship – giving the opinion that the team needed to attract more affluent white fans.

In the e-mail Levenson says he believes “the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base.”

Levenson says the e-mail “trivialized our fans by making cliched assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans).

“By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who banned Sterling for life from all league activities, praised Levenson for notifying the league himself of the e-mail.

The league launched its own investigation into the circumstances, but Levenson told Silver he was selling before the probe was completed.

“As Mr. Levenson acknowledged, the views he expressed are entirely unacceptable and are in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association,” Silver said.

“He shared with me how truly remorseful he is for using those hurtful words and how apologetic he is to the entire NBA family – fans, players, team employees, business partners and fellow team owners – for having diverted attention away from our game.

“I commend Mr. Levenson for self-reporting to the league office, for being fully cooperative with the league and its independent investigator, and for putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first,” the commissioner said.

Zero tolerance

Koonin issued a statement of his own, posted on the team’s website, calling Levenson’s statement “extremely disappointing” and the e-mail in question “alarming, offensive and most of all, completely unacceptable …

“In partnership with the NBA, we will work to ensure that a new ownership team will be put in place that is united and committed to the Atlanta community.”

When the recording of Sterling’s comments scolding V. Stiviano for associating with black friends was made public by in April, Levenson was among the NBA owners to quickly denounce the 80-year-old Clippers owner.

At the time, Levenson, the co-founder of United Communications Group, told an Atlanta radio station the league should have “zero tolerance” for racism and discrimination.

The scandal rocked the entire NBA, and in the storm that followed, Sterling initially agreed to the sale of the team, but then abruptly withdrew his support.

His wife, however, moved to sell the Clippers as a trustee of the family trust that owned the team after Sterling had been declared mentally incapacitated – triggering a court battle between husband and wife. –

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