NBA Hawks' owner to sell control of team, cites racially insensitive remarks

Sun Sep 7, 2014 10:47pm EDT
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By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - The owner of the Atlanta Hawks announced on Sunday he would sell his controlling interest in the National Basketball Association franchise because of racially insensitive remarks he made, in an echo of a scandal involving the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team.

Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said fans have a right to be angry about an internal email he wrote two years ago about the need to boost arena attendance and how black and white fans differed in what they preferred to see at Hawks’ games.

"In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive," Levenson said in a statement released by the team."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," he added.

His e-mail to team general manager Danny Ferry, which addressed ways to boost the number of season ticket holders, delved into racial makeup of fans at the Hawks arena and suggested that southern white men might not be comfortable in an arena with a high percentage of African American fans.

Levenson's announcement came just over four months after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in an unprecedented move, banned then Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league and fined him $2.5 million for making racist remarks.

    Sterling had been heard, in taped private comments, imploring a female friend not to associate with black people.

The Levenson episode was especially striking as it unfolded in one of the nation's largest majority-black cities, a center of African-American culture, wealth and political power and the birthplace of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The Clippers saga ended last month when former Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer took over as the new owner of the franchise after completing a $2 billion purchase.   Continued...

Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (C), goes up for a basket between Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass (L), and center Kevin Garnett (R), in the second half of their NBA basketball game in Atlanta, Georgia  January 5, 2013.   REUTERS/Tami Chappell