Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson will sell the franchise after the revelation of a 2012 email he wrote stereotyping African-American fans.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Levenson made the announcement Sunday morning with joint statements. Silver held a meeting in New York late last week with a group of other owners to discuss the issue, but many other owners and team officials did not know of it until Sunday’s announcement, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The announcement comes a little more than four months after the release of an audio tape in which former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made racial comments to his reported girlfriend. Silver banished Sterling from the NBA and forced him to sell. Sterling’s wife Shelly closed the sale of the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion last month.
Levenson apologized for the August 2012 email, which he said made “clichéd assumptions” about the differences between black and white fans in Atlanta.
“Over the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with low attendance at our games and the need for the Hawks to attract more season ticket holders and corporate sponsors,” Levenson said in the statement. “Over that time, I’ve talked with team executives about the need for the Hawks to build a more diverse fan base that includes more suburban whites, and I shared my thoughts on why our efforts to bridge Atlanta’s racial sports divide seemed to be failing.
“In trying to address those issues, I wrote an email two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd 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.
“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. 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.”
Silver said Levenson notified the NBA of the email in July, and the league followed with its own investigation.
“Prior to the completion of the investigation, Mr. Levenson notified me [Saturday] evening that he had decided to sell his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks,” Silver said. “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.”
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin will oversee team operations while the franchise works through the sale process.