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.