Atlanta Hawks Owner Bruce Levenson Sells Team; Claims He’s Racist


Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is on his way out of the NBA. He’s decided that he will sell the team before the completion of an NBA investigation into a 2012 e-mail claiming that the team needs to attract more white spectators.  

In an odd twist, Levenson reported the email himself, possibly because of the NBA’s nuclear reaction to Donald Sterling.

Levenson, one of the NBA owners to speak out against Sterling, has issued an apology.  Here is an excerpt:  

In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail 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.

Following Levenson notifying the league office the e-mail, the NBA commenced an independent investigation regarding the comments.

Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association wrote this statement: 

“Prior to the completion of the investigation, Mr. Levenson notified me last evening that he had decided to sell his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks. 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. 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.

“We will be working with the Hawks ownership group on the appropriate process for the sale of the team and I have offered our full support to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who will now oversee all team operations.

“The NBA and its teams have long had in place anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in order to facilitate respectful and diverse workplaces. Earlier this summer, the league re-doubled its efforts by, among other things, making it mandatory for all league and team personnel to receive annual training on these issues.”

What makes this case different than that of Donald Sterling is that he brought it to the commissioner’s attention himself.   

Levenson said he regrets the email sent to the team’s co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry tand deems it “inappropriate and offensive.” In a statement released by the team, Levenson said he sent the email due to his concerns about low attendance and a need to attract suburban whites.

“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.”

The letter, while racist, also seemed about business. Long story short:  The racism claim doesn’t seem as strong as with Donald Sterling.  He also brought it to the attention of the NBA himself.   

It is not immediately clear whether this is just a ploy to make it easier for him to sell the team.  Perhaps there will be more information on this soon.