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Why Atlanta Hawks owner was racist and wrong to blame hip-hop and black fans

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The Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson wanted to put forth a theory as to why the Hawks could not sell tickets. But instead of finding a unique approach to improve the Hawks’ flawed business model, Levenson reacted lazily and blamed hip-hop, gospel music and black fans for the lack of sales.

As a result, Levenson will now sell the team because of the racial undertones used in an email to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry.

 “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,” Levenson wrote.

Levenson also wrote that “Hawks crowds are 70 percent black, the cheerleaders are black, and hip-hop music is played [during games].” He encouraged the team to add white cheerleaders and to play music that would be acceptable to a “40-year-old white guy.”

Levenson’s email was indeed insulting to every black person who ever paid a dime to see the Hawks play. On any given night, Atlanta celebrities such as T.I., Usher, Lil Jon, Jermaine Dupri, 2 Chainz, Kandi Burruss, Ciara, Future and Monica could be seen cheering for the Hawks. The Atlanta celebrities allowed the Hawks to have a cool factor that can only be rivaled by teams in New York and L.A.

Atlanta’s black fan base remained true to the Hawks even when the rest of the NBA completely ignored the team.

And this is where Levenson got it wrong. It wasn’t the black fans or hip-hop that made white people and corporations skeptical about buying tickets. It was the flawed product that was being offered on the basketball court.

The NBA is a league of superstars. Teams who are fortunate enough to land a top 10 player have a greater chance of winning and attracting a larger fan base.

The Atlanta Hawks haven’t had a true superstar in more than 20 years. When Dominique Wilkins dunked his way to legendary status in the mid 1980s and early ’90s, the Hawks were top 10 in attendance. In 1988, the Hawks had the 8th best attendance in the NBA.

Years after Wilkins was traded from the Hawks, Atlanta set an NBA single-game attendance record. On March 27, 1998, 62,046 people visited the Georgia Dome to witness the Hawks against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. That record stands today.

This proves that white people aren’t afraid to sit next to black fans and hip-hop stars to watch a good game. If the product is exceptional, people from every race will support that product.

But Levenson needed a scapegoat for his lack of business acumen in basketball. Again, he chose the racist route by suggesting black people were the cause of his team’s failures and him being incapable of coming up with new ideas to attract superior talent on the court.

The  email came to light after Hawks GM Danny Ferry made a racist comment about a black player in a scouting report. An internal investigation ensued and the racist email was found.

The NBA should investigate Ferry and every person in the Hawks organization who received the email and did nothing to correct or report the racist person who signs their checks.

In the end, Levenson will sell his stake in the Hawks and make a lot of money. Ferry could face disciplinary action and could be fired. But overall, it’s just another case that proves how racism continues to affect every aspect of American life.




6 Comments

  1. mimi on September 8, 2014 at 10:35 am

    I guess its ok for black to make these owners money but not good enough to attend tue games… hey sounds like slavery.. blacks good enough to work in the fields.and kitchen but not good enough to eat at the dinner table

  2. Kenyatta on September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Listen, I don’t think he was being racist. But leave it to the author and other folks to try and stir up some mess.

    This was about business and ticket sales and he was seeking strategies to increase revenue. Unlike DC, there weren’t enough middle class black folks to buy season tickets. No one was buying or wearing team gear and folks got more excited about getting free t-shirts than supporting the team. It was racist, they were facts. He wanted to more diversity in the mix. If the tables were turned, you would understand, so let’s not take this out of context like the media is already doing.

    At the end of the day, if the fans were blue and “spending money”, he would have done a happy tap dance for them. Stay focused on the things that matter. This is not one of them.

    • Likewaterforchoc on September 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      There a lot of instances where it is not about race and some try to make it that way. This is not one of those instances.
      If you single out an entire race of people and their culture for your business failures, yes, you are a racist. This is not about business, it is about passing the buck. People generally don’t go to Hawks games because the team sucks. They don’t even have a viable sports rivalry (i.e. Falcons vs. Saints, Celtics vs. Lakers). The failures lie in failing to realize marketing opportunities and not choosing the right players/coaches to build a winning team. If you build it they will come.

  3. Crymeariver! on September 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Hey, here’s a thought…instead of him blaming loyal black fans who actually attend the games, try winning some games, maybe ppl will come…black, red and blue alike. We shouldn’t even be surprised by his comments, because sadly this is how many of them think. Hello, this is Atlanta, who did he think the majority crowd would be? Within the email he was comparing the Hawks’ crowd demographic to other cities, which is completely irrelevant if it’s somewhere like Salt Lake City, Utah he’s comparing Atlanta to, for example. Glad he’s going. The Hawks need someone who’s invested in bettering the brand and the team, not finding a group of ppl to blame for his shortcomings. Just wish he wasn’t making any money off of this, but a sour taste in the fans’ mouths is a start.

  4. 5aiah on September 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I think both sides are right. He’s too willing to pass the blame onto the population and culture but he’s not really being racist. He has a point economics wise because atlanta is a smaller market and there is likely a smaller middle class. Also it’s not like the North where there is less racial tension, Atlanta is in the south where whites are more likely to be racist and disapprove of black cheerleaders and hip hop music being the norm. He’s on point but people are taking what he’s saying out of context. Atlanta is too small for the Atlanta Hawks so this guy is saying make them appeal to Georgia as a whole. To be honest I don’t understand how this situation isn’t being used to promote racial harmony and understanding, its a missed opportunity.

  5. atlmom5 on September 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    This whole thing is being taken out of context, I wish people will start getting all of the facts first before writing nonsense. If this article spoke about Danny Ferry’s comments then I could probably agree, but what this man did in my opinion wasn’t racist, it was a business man trying to understand why a certain demographic wasn’t attending the games. Stop making everything about race when it isn’t people.