HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Say this for the city of Atlanta and its NBA franchise: at a time of crisis, the response has been swift and comprehensive.
Team officials, civic leaders, fans, the local media and even the city’s mayor have all rallied to the rescue of a franchise in need of an immediate pick-me-up in the wake of the Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry dramas.
It’s been impressive. It’s the one time I can remember in a decade of living and working in Atlanta that there was this kind of focus and attention on the well-being of the Hawks.
The fact it took a dumpster fire of epic proportions to bring these people together is what spoils it for me. There are lots of good people who will end up paying dearly for the missteps and mistakes of someone else (Levenson and Ferry in particular).
Ownership — at least controlling interest — will change hands. There are always casualties when that happens.
Jobs will be lost.
Reputations will be tarnished … forever.
The lives of people who aren’t directly involved have been and will continue to be turned upside down.
And when training camp opens in a few weeks, the focus will be on the circus going on around the team instead of the team itself!
Levenson, Ferry, Michael Gearon Jr. and other members of the organization won’t be on the hook come media day. That responsibility will fall upon Atlanta’s players and coaches, who had absolutely nothing to do with the mess that has been made.
So with all due respect to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — who insists all involved will be better in the end because of this cratering of a franchise — the city and the Hawks’ fan base, there is no happy ending in sight. Not even with beloved Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins in the fold in a legitimate decision-making position within the new structure, whatever that might be.
Ferry meeting with local clergy and civic leaders behind closed doors won’t heal the public trust that has been breached by his discriminatory and destructive comments regarding Miami Heat forward Luol Deng.
While the attentions of the rest of the sports world and the 24-hour news cycle shifts to even more drama in the NFL, folks here will be left to sort through the wreckage of an Atlanta Spirit organization that seemed poised for big things in the 2014-15 season. A strong playoff showing without Al Horford in uniform gave Hawks fans plenty of hope to chew on during the offseason.
Even without making a huge splash in free agency, there remained a sense of optimism surrounding the on-court product (Paul Millsap emerged as an All-Star, Jeff Teague showed signs of being an elite-level point guard and coach Mike Budenholzer proved that system basketball works when administered properly).
Now Budenholzer has to assume duties he never signed up for as the day-to-day steward of the Hawks’ basketball operations, while Ferry continues his indefinite leave of absence.
What you have left is a skeptical fan base, the one that has been disrespected at every turn, wondering where it fits into this basketball soap opera. Paying customers who felt the Hawks were relevant have been given reason to question everything about the franchise and how it is run. Potential customers (yes, that’s ultimately what fans are) now have even more reason to ignore the city’s most consistent playoff outfit.
Hawks part-owner and CEO Steve Koonin will have to dig into his deep reservoir of tactics to sell what’s going on right now to the local public. I know this because I live among them. I hear from them regularly about this team at gas stations, grocery stores, school functions and church. The question is always the same: “what’s up with the Hawks?”
A shake of the head is all I can offer now, because I’m honestly not sure.
I’ve watched the relationship between a diverse and vibrant city and what has largely been an equally vibrant team the past seven years, run on parallel tracks … for the most part. The same basic questions Levenson had about the apathy of a certain segment of the fan base is the same question, without the racial or ethnic distinctions, of course, I’ve struggled with the past decade.
I’ve seen lovable losers in other NBA cities get 10 times the love the Hawks receive with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning-champion San Antonio Spurs) as a selling point.
The disconnect has always been about the perception of who and what the Hawks are to the locals and beyond and the reality of who and what they are to the people that matter most: those willing to spend their time and money venturing to Philips Arena to watch games in person.
Fixing that disconnect and repairing that breach requires transparency the Hawks have yet to commit to. Then and only then will I buy this talk of a happy ending for all involved.