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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
Bad owners should be scared
Bruce Levenson Bruce Levenson will sell his stake in the Hawks
after revealing a racially-ignorant e-mail he sent.
Philadelphia, PA ( - Bruce Levenson, the NBA and even Donald Sterling can all take credit Monday morning for the unfolding event surrounding yet another bizarre, racially-motivated incident involving an NBA owner and his selling of the team.

You probably heard or read about the story by now, but Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Levenson will sell his stake in the franchise after revealing a racially-ignorant e-mail he sent team general manager Danny Ferry and other owners. The e-mail is from July, 2012, but, since there's no statute of limitations on ignorance and hate, Levenson will be the former owner in due time.

It may seem like two years isn't a time frame equivalent with the speed of light, but this all happened fairly quickly and part of the reason has to do with Sterling.

The story, which was originally reported by ESPN's Brian Windhorst and confirmed to CNN by new CEO Steve Koonin, is that Ferry repeated a racially- charged comment in a scouting report this summer and that launched an in-house investigation. That revealed Levenson's e-mail and why his controlling stake will belong to someone else shortly.

Levenson turned over all information voluntarily and agreed to sell his stakes in the same manner. He apologized in a statement, Commission Adam Silver released one of his own and it appears the league is semi-satisfied with the ultimate result.

Of course, both statements were released as the NFL was about to begin its season in earnest, so the timing absolutely reflects a well-thought out plan to have as little focus as possible on the announcement.

I encourage everyone to read Levenson's e-mail. The Hawks released it for all of the world to see. What starts as a business model about season-ticket expansion, spirals very quickly into hate.

Levenson's contention is that the crowd at Hawks' games is dominantly African- American. According to him, "many of our black fans don't have the spendable income" which hurt season ticket sales as well as merchandise profits, thus, Levenson concocts a plan to whiten Philips Arena.

"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. Please don't get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority," Levenson said in the e-mail.

"I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don't care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that's our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black."

The kiss cam is too black. Unreal.

In a post-Sterling world in the NBA, nothing shall remain secret. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said as much. While no one defended Sterling, there was a small pocket that defended the notion that acting against someone for private comments would create a slippery slope where all owners would be concerned about any comments ever made.

They should be.

This nonsense has no place in the NBA, nor does it in society. I'm not stupid. Racism won't end, but the idea that owners should be scared about bigoted comments made in the past is laughable. These higher-ups seem to be more worried that the comments will come up and be made public, not that they are bigots. I have zero sympathy for these same people when things like this happen.

Levenson lashed out at Sterling. Of course, he also knew he had a racist e- mail in his closet, one that backs more white-friendly music in his arena. Takes someone pretty two-faced to publicly condemn a racist, all the while he thinks too many African-Americans get opportunities to win crappy prizes at his halftimes.

If Levenson hated the role Sterling's racism played in the NBA, it's pretty revolting and telling to think he never disclosed his e-mail until two years after its transmission. I feel like Levenson would remember writing an e-mail that said the kiss-cam was too black. Unreal.

Levenson at one point in the e-mail derided fans on fan sites saying how dangerous it is around Philips Arena. "This was just racist garbage," he wrote. "When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games."

Then instead of lashing out against ideas and people he believed to be racist, he advocated the hiring of white cheerleaders and keeping African-Americans off the kiss cam.

The fact that he essentially sided with those he deemed racist by trying to enact policies to get those people in attendance is reprehensible.

And what kind of work environment did Levenson create where a scout feels comfortable enough to use racial language in a report about a player. ESPN is reporting the player in question was Luol Deng, who shockingly is not only considered one of the league's most solid citizens, but also is not a member of the Atlanta Hawks. And then the team's general manager feels comfortable enough to utter the words out loud, verbatim at a meeting about the player.

Koonin told the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chris Vivlamore that Ferry will face discipline from the team. The league should throw down the hammer on Ferry as well. What world are we living in that Ferry thinks its acceptable to read a racist remark at a meeting?

That's not even close to the only question.

Did the NBA persuade Levenson to sell his shares?

Or, did Levenson see the growing landscape where even the Milwaukee Bucks are going for $550 million and decide to do what looked like the honorable thing, all the while making a huge return on his investment?

Where is the NBA in all of this? Silver's Sunday statement reads in part like this:

"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."

Levenson doesn't deserve anyone's commendation. He got caught. It's easy to be contrite where you're both guilty, and caught. It's easy to sell the stakes in the team when you'll turn a profit.

"If you're angry about what I wrote, you should be," Levenson said in his statement. "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."

Truthfully, I believe there is a disconnect between affluent white people who buy season tickets and the NBA. It's not something I feel truly capable of solving. I don't know the answer, but I know that the answer is not "the kiss cam is too black."

Silver chucked Sterling for life and made him sell the team. Since Levenson came forward on his own, then volunteered to sell, there's no other ramifications? Sterling got the belt and suspenders treatment. Just because Levenson is selling on his own, that doesn't mean he should avoid the lifetime ban.

If the Sterling incident put every owner on heightened alert, then I can live with that. If owners are afraid of the microscope they live under, I'm fine with that, too. Weeding the NBA of hateful bigots is not the worst thing in the world.

The kiss cam is too black. Unreal.