Levenson to sell Hawks over racially charged e-mail
NEW YORK – Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said Sunday he’ll sell his controlling interest in the NBA team in the wake of racially charged remarks he made in an e-mail two years ago.
Levenson’s decision to voluntarily sell comes after the NBA’s ugly fight to remove Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after racist remarks he made to a girlfriend became public.
After months of legal wrangling and resistance by Sterling, the LA club’s $2 billion sale to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer was made official in August.
Levenson clearly hopes to spare the NBA a similar episode.
“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,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
The team said chief executive Steve Koonin will oversee all team operations and take all organizational reports as they proceed with the sale process.
Levenson said he was “truly embarrassed” by the words in the e-mail, which he said were “inappropriate and offensive” as he tried to address issues relating to low attendance and the need for more season ticket holders and corporate sponsorship.
“I shared my thoughts on why our efforts to bridge Atlanta’s racial sports divide seemed to be failing.” Levenson said.
“I trivialized our fans by making cliched 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.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who banned Sterling for life from all league activities, praised Levenson for notifying the league himself of the e-mail.
The league launched its own investigation into the circumstances, but Levenson told Silver he was selling before the probe was completed.
“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,” Silver said.
“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,” the commissioner said.