Racist allegations: Seperate reprecussions for front office

Mohamed Bafakih, Reporter


With the wakening of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s case in April, it seemed clear that first-year NBA commissioner Adam Silver would not allow any kind of tolerance of any racial discrimination or prejudice.

Five months later, we’re hit with another lawsuit – this time with an internal connection between management personnel (rather than the belligerent voice recording such as Sterling’s case with his girlfriend.)

First off, the now former Atlanta Hawks co-owner, Bruce Levenson, stands correct and is not a racist. Levenson sold his share of 21 percent on Sept. 7 after self-reporting a 2012 email between him and his co-owners, which included Hawks general manager Danny Ferry. Levenson owned up about the email in his statement in July calling it “intolerable and offensive.”

This personal email questioned the Hawks facility, fan base and employees. Here are a few excerpts from Levenson’s email:

“For the first couple of years we owned the team, I didn’t much focus on game ops. Then one day a light bulb went off when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, I was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league.”

“Then I started looking around the arena and noticed the following: 1.) It’s 70 pct. black. 2.) The cheerleaders are black. 3.) The music is hip hop 4.) At the bar it’s 90 pct. black….”

“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… I think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.”

“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…. And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low…”

As antagonistic as he may have seemed, Levinson approached this email within his inner circle of businessmen. In any business, small or corporate level, you want to make sure you’re providing consumers with the most exceptional experience and making sure you’re bringing money in.

This is not your everyday business however. This was nearly a $200-million organization that Levenson and his co-owner Michael Gearon invested in back in 2004. When you are not drawing in and meeting expectations for your season ticket base, solutions and valid reasoning have to be brought up – especially with your fellow investors.

Could he have approached it differently? Absolutely. Does it make him a racist? No. This is a strong-minded, opinionated businessman who wants the best for his organization and his partners. Him stepping down as owner and selling his share will impact the next owner and how they will carry on an organization that nearly knocked off the one-seed Pacers in the first round of the NBA playoffs this past season. They deserve tremendous support, as they are a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar supports Levenson as well. In a recent interview with TIME, Jabbar mentions, “He’s a businessman, not a racist … sure, there are assumptions he makes that are cringeworthy – but the questions about how to attract more white fans were entirely reasonable.”

Atlanta has a high demographic of African-Americans; thus, it’s expected to attract many of them – especially for basketball games being such a highly popular game for blacks. Whether the white community is opposed to attending games for that matter or not, blacks will still continue to support their city’s team, which has to be honored.

Ferry, on the other hand, deserves major criticism and clearly made racist remarks. In his conference call with both owners discussing this summer’s free agency, Ferry listed potential players that may fit into the Hawks’ system.

On veteran Luol Deng, who is of Sudan descent, Ferry took no time stating his opinion. “He’s a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way, other than … he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

I had a chance to talk to BC math professor Thomas Mieh who is of Liberian descent about Ferry.

“Frankly, [Ferry] needs to know more about Africa. People there are nicer to strangers than to their own kind. He is being ignorant and is educated enough to make better decisions (Ferry, a four-year Duke University student-athlete). “

Ferry played in 13 NBA seasons and was a former vice president for the highly diverse San Antonio Spurs franchise before taking the general manager position for the Hawks.

Ferry has taken an indefinite leave, but there is no room for his bigotry in the NBA. The Hawks remain an open investment and are seeking to move on “the Atlanta way” as Kasim Reed, Atlanta mayor says.