The latest gut-punch for the Hawks

VIDEO: Hawks owner Levenson to sell team

BARCELONA — You have to wonder how much more can one franchise and its fragile fan base take? How many more gut-punches do the fine folks in the city of Atlanta, always a punch line for jokes naming the worst sports cities, have to endure?

The news of Hawks part-owner Bruce Levenson selling his stake in the franchise amid an investigation by the NBA into comments he made in a 2012 email is the latest blow for a franchise that has had to endure decades of dysfunction.

Where does it end?

Levenson’s apology, however sincere, doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s now lumped his family’s name and the Hawks into the mix with the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling. This is no doubt a part of the fallout that NBA insiders were worried about when the Sterling mess turned into global news seemingly overnight.

Remember that “slippery slope” that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talked about when he wondered how the league would handle other owners who were found to have said or done something to upset the sensibilities of a league that has championed inclusion, tolerance and acceptance?

Well, this is it.

Levenson was quick to speak out against Sterling when that news broke, only to have those words come back and bite him now that he’s the one in the crosshairs.

The truth is, there are people working at the highest levels in teams around the league who need to think long and hard about the way they have conducted their business before uttering a single word about any of the things that have gone on with the Clippers and now the Hawks. That’s not an accusation. It’s merely a fact for anyone trying to do business in Silver’s NBA.

Levenson throwing himself on the mercy of the fans with his statement — released by the Hawks today — comes with financial undertones as well. While his stake in the team won’t fetch anything like the record $2 billion that Steve Ballmer paid to free the Clippers from Sterling — Levenson is said to own less than half the team — he’ll walk away with a hefty sum despite the damage that his e-mail has done.

With the sale, Levenson will end his decade-long tenure as a part-owner of a franchise that has suffered one dysfunctional turn after another, something that he and his partners appeared to clean up recently with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs) and the addition of marketing wiz and new part owner/CEO Steve Koonin, who knows Atlanta and the market as well as anyone.

The task for Koonin and the Hawks now is reassuring an already skeptical fan base that the franchise does not operate from the perspective Levenson expressed in that email.

It won’t be easy.

Hawks fans have had to suffer through a lot. The former owners, the Atlanta Spirit partners, took their internal battles to court, suing each other after the Joe Johnson sign-and-trade deal. From former part-owner Steve Belkin to Billy Knight, from Johnson and Josh Smith to Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, someone always has been a scapegoat in Atlanta. The Hawks even fired their longtime vice president of public relations, Arthur Triche, in a failed effort to improve their image. Meanwhile, despite regularly making it into the playoffs, the Hawks have gone through years and years of postseason irrelevance.

Levenson and his original partners got off to a rocky start. It was no secret. There were trust issues, inside and outside of the franchise, from the start.

In the end, that ownership group, or at least a major member of that original group, will exit the premises having breached the public trust. Which leaves the fans, once again, looking for someone that can truly represent the good people of Atlanta.


  1. Another Cavs Fan says:

    Okay honestly, that email is NOT racist. In fact, people calling it racist IS RACIST.

    In the email he speaks to a racial disproportionate attendance that is affecting the fan base. Everyone is talking about how racially insensitive the email was and how this can’t be tolerated in the NBA.

    No one is talking about the one thing everyone is afraid to face: Maybe he has a point!

    Maybe everything he said in the email is true. He wasn’t saying what he said with bad intentions, and what if everything he said was true?

    Even the part about the affluent black community being insufficient to fill up seats: isn’t he right? maybe that’s the actual racial problem people should be discussing? people are rising against what they think are racist comments, but maybe they should rise against racial inequality in socioeconomic status?

  2. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Thekid57+ says:

    I think we all have forgotten the past. Nothing change, Just a different picture.We need to take the veil off our face, and look at the hiold picture.We consantly support these sports teams,teaching young kids how to be sportman and to accept people and to respect .Where are we today. Consantly spending your hard earn money to support your team. There is so much invoild here.We have supported these sports team for decades.When the team is in the playoff only certain peoples can afford to go to the gamesSo where are we today . still on the back seat May God Bless you

  3. Stingray says:

    The man is clearly a genius. He saw that NBA is guaranteeing a good deal in that kind of scenario (See Sterling sale) and decided to sell his stocks. I believe he will get more for it than he would have just by selling it, because NBA is now the interested side for his stocks to be sold.
    That is a very nice business move actually 🙂

  4. Patrick says:

    Describing Mr. Levinson as a racist is to simple. Kareem has some intgeresting thoughts about his mail an the public reaction:

  5. Lifelong Hawks Fan says:

    Why don’t you follow the Golden Rule and wish for an expansion team. Seattle is not entitled to Atlanta’s team—obviously plenty of us have supported the Hawks for decades or they would have left years ago. Guess what? Atlanta is a top 10 market with 6 million people. Seattle is half our size. You lost the Sonics for a reason. Jerk.

  6. Tnmuzic says:

    Looking at the grand scale of things. He selling the Hawk because of not gain as much as profit but he wont state that because it will lose value. Rather putting it to sell because of racism sound better on the market price.

  7. dfries81 says:

    The “he has some African in him” was a note written by a scout. Danny Ferry read what the scout wrote, not Ferry’s words. And Levenson’s e-mail is not racist. Most people agree…

  8. I8A4RE says:

    What a joke this league has become! Someone’s personal opinion on business and there forced to sell – again, A bunch of easily offended PC players who are probably more racist than the hawks owner himself. So hypocritical

  9. Sanary Surmer says:

    How is Danny Ferry still in this league? Luol Deng still has some African left in him?????? Seems Ferry still has some White European Master left in him! Whatever Atlanta executive management did to Ferry it’s not enough. Is it lost on Ferry that without those with “African” in them, he would not be in the cushy job he has never deserved nor been a part of an NCAA championship at Duke?

  10. Robert1959 says:

    No NBA team has ever been sold for 2 billion dollars. The NBA raised the bar when they paid a racist bigot like Donald Sterling 2 billion dollars to “go away”.

    The NBA is a “global” company and makes billions of dollars on cable TV rights, radio, merchandising, etc. The players are the product and should be compensated for their work on and off the court.

    “Collective Bargaining Agreement” – Should be torn-up and re-written before it expires as a sign of “good will” to help the negotiation process. The owners did it to themselves when they agreed to pay Donald Sterling 2 billion dollars over his original 27 million dollar investment.

    The NBAPA should be in discussions right know with their lawyers creating a new “Collective Bargaining Agreement” strategy. For example the Players should demand the salary level be raised to $1 million dollars per game for “Star” Players if the “owners” are going to use “racism” as an excuse to sell the team and “cash out”. The current salary level of $83 million dollars per team in unacceptable.

    Over the next 10 years (820 games) James, Anthony, Love and other NBA “Star” Players have a chance to be the 1st “Billion Dollar” NBA Players. How?

    *Playing Basketball – James, Anthony, Love and other NBA “Star” Players should not play for less than 1 million dollars per game – 82 games per season = $82 million annually.

    *Endorsements (shoes, etc.) – James, Anthony, Love and other NBA “Star” Players should not wear anybody’s shoes for less than – 1 million dollars per game – 82 million annually.

    *Over 10 years James, Anthony, Love and other NBA “Star” Players can make – $1,640,000,000 each just for playing basketball and wearing sneakers.

    Donald Sterling (2 billion dollars) still made more money than James, Anthony, Love and other NBA “Star” Players without playing a game of basketball or wearing anybody’s sneakers. How crazy is that…

    • TTKIN says:

      Copied and pasted ur own comment from a Sterling article months ago? Or are you not the original author?

    • M says:

      How would they $82 million in one season? The highest contract for one season ever signed was $33 million. These players get around $20 million a year you idiot.

  11. Miguel Melo says:

    I don’t think it was racist, only poorly constructed due to the informal nature of the e-mail. It was a internal e-mail with marketing opinions.
    Right after he said that “the blacks are scaring away the whites”, he clearly meant, as he explained in the following lines, that the SOUTHERN WHITE MAN is in many ways still affected with some prejudice against his fellow man.
    More, lets not deny that every ethnic group feels more comfortable when they are not in minority, whites and blacks included.
    Kareem seems to agree with me.

  12. Vincent says:

    The truth is he got hacked and blackmailed for a lot of money of this mail. The hacker thought in the wake of the Sterling drama he could blackmail this guy to the ground.

    However the owner chose to make the e-mail public himself, therefor rendering the blackmail useless.

  13. Lex Luger says:

    I read the email and it wasn’t really racist. He was making observations that, as a black man, are true. He was pointing out things from a demographic and business stand point. I don’t really care but to go and say that this was so racist he had to sell the team? Whatever.

    • TTKIN says:

      I don’t see a prob with a guy wanting to improve/change his business. Atlanta has been trying for years to figure out how to get more fans to attend games. The way he put it, however, was stupid.

      As a white man, I’ll probably always be the minority when watching/talking/attending basketball games. But I don’t care if Im surrounded by 100 black people, Asians, Mexicans, middle easterns, etc…….as long as u root for the same team as me, we’ll have a great time at the game together hahaha.

  14. wardwestray says:

    Hawks are the most boring team in the NBA. They win around 40-50 games and lose in the first or second round every year. Even the names of the people who have played for them are boring: Josh Smith, Joe Smith, Joe Johnson, Mike Scott, Marvin Williams… yawn. They are the most 44-38 team of all time. I may cheer for a bad team (Minnesota) but at least it’s not the Hawks.

    • Josh smith says:

      You cheer for a team who can NEVER make it to the playoffs 7+ years in a row. Thats pathetic now id rather have ‘boring’ over the weak wolves. They cant even reach the 8th seed? Pure joke. And obviosly youve never watched ANY Hawks ball to know that they are far from boring. The wolves? Lmao no wonder why you’re talking like that!

      • miguelamor22 says:

        I dont like the wolves or the hawks, but I co-sign with wardwestray. Nobody outside Atlanta is really down for the Hawks.

  15. Bill says:

    I haven’t read the email and I won’t because I don’t care.

    What I do care about it is that we seem to be rapidly moving towards intolerance of people’s weaknesses and imperfections as human beings.

    I have news for you, every NBA owner and every NBA player has said or written something in the past five years that they don’t broadcasted on the nightly news because it would be hurtful to another person or group of people. We all say ugly things in anger, frustration or desperation. Given that this is true, should we all try harder to be better? Absolutely! However I repeat that we are all less than perfect and mistakes happen.

    There seems to me a great irony that groups of people in this country pleading for tolerance and acceptance are capable of being the least tolerant and accepting.

    • The truth says:

      I am sure that we have all said something or did something in our lives that is shameful. I am quite sure the NBA is full of corruption and that this instance is just a sliver of what is the true picture behind the NBA. I just don’t know why the NBA acts as this “do good” organization an buries its face in the sand because someone has an opinion, right or wrong. If the NBA was truly as “good” as it portrays to be the would spend more time and money giving to charity. But really the face of the NBA is all about money and greed, whiney basketball players that don’t think they get paid enough and owners that will do anything for an other nickel. That’s the true face of the NBA.

  16. theone says:

    HE probably did make big racist comments, why he opted out of investigation, As it should be, there is no place for Racism, no place for violence, this needs to be a safe accepting place for players and fans. its only views that initiate violence upon innocents that are a problem.

  17. harriethehawk says:

    True.True. I’m black and the only real fans in the Phillips Arena are the children, the die hard Hawks crew just above the Hawks bench with their signs and large player face signs, and the college crew section on the opposite side of the basket. If you cheer for the Hawks when they play against teams like Miami, New York, OKC, or even Brooklyn, you may be told to sit down.

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  20. LakersFan says:

    I read the email and there was only a discussion about demograpically targeted marketing, no racism at all. If you call this racism than you should better jump off a bridge. This guy should have stand tall and defend himself instead of admitting he is being ashamed of what he said. There is nothing wrong of a businessman to evaluate his investments current situation and discuss new ways to make it better. Levenson probably wanted to sell his share and get out of this business. Otherwise this events wouldn’t make any sense.

  21. Michael Robinson says:

    I don’t know what the real fuss is all about what Bruce Levenson said was not only true but sorry to very true. I recently went to a Hawks playoff game and it was the worse experience I had numerous homeless people outside begging for rides to the nearest shelter. felons scalping tickets. and as an African American I wish we would stop looking for someone to lay the blame game on. First it was slavery then it was Lynchings then JIm Crow. We have overcame many obstacles but as a community we have regressed to animals high teen pregnancy rates skyrocketing dropout rates. Thats not Brucce Levenson or Donald STerlings fault that blame lays at our feet we have failed our children as parents the no snitch policy kills more African Americans then lynchings. The lack of fathers have created the half men you see in the NBA and in other facets of the African American community so when you choose to post miscalculated mind you true statements do not try to railroad a man who has built his own into selling a business he owns

  22. Fred says:

    As noted in other comments, it’s likely he’s getting out while he can, trying to capitalize on the infamy of the Sterling saga in Clipperland. Meanwhile, these owner dudes must be thinking a lot about things like this, marketability, etc. The Pistons play in the Palace of Auburn Hills. Detroit and Chicago seem to be decaying urban messes, and the “white flight” that took place in past decades left many inner cities to urban blight. It’s not necessarily “racist” to ask questions like this. Certain correlations exist between social groups and income level (poverty), likelihood of prison, recidivism, school dropout rates, all sorts of stuff. Maybe the NBA should invest in finding the sources of these trends instead of just doing the strawman thing and weeding out some rich numbskull whose only talent is making money. If you know the sad saga of Donald Sterling, you know that he revelled in the spotlight. Owning the Clippers made him someone unique in the US and on the planet–a major sporting franchise owner. One thing I know is that demographics is an inexact science–“a change gonna come.” Take the Sports Arena in LA–the neighborhood around the LA Coliseum went from one color to the next, property values changed, and so on. Is it anybody’s fault. I don’t think so. But, if you own the Rams, Dodgers, Clippers, or any other major franchise, you’d probably be pretty near-sighted NOT to at least think about it. This dude, Levenson, wants out.

  23. John Q says:

    Hi, well, Atlanta is a pretty lame sports town… No offense but you guys don’t care about basketball. On that note, can this franchise be put in Seattle as the SuperSonics? Please? We Seattle fans want our team back. Atlanta fans can cheer on teams from Florida anyway. Thank You! (At least consider it Sonics loyal lol).

    • Vikash Movva says:

      Sorry you guys lost your team, I really am. You know that feeling of loss, why would you try to take our team from us? The Hawks have a loyal fan base, more loyal than those of Miluwakee. We go to the games and cheer and pray for our team. Don’t take that away from us. I say that the only way to solve this dilemna is to give the ownership of this team to the fans, the few of us that we are. We would definitely buy enough stock to keep my team in Atlanta.