ATLANTA (TheBlaze/AP) — Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson says he's selling his controlling interest in the team, in part due to an inflammatory email Levenson said he wrote in an attempt "to bridge Atlanta's racial sports divide."
Levenson said he regrets the email sent to the team's co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry two years ago as "inappropriate and offensive." In a statement released by the team Sunday, Levenson said he sent the email due to his concerns about low attendance and a need to attract suburban whites. He said he later realized the email made it seem white fans were more important.
Levenson said he voluntarily reported the email to the NBA.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Sunday the league will work with the Hawks ownership group and CEO Steve Koonin, who now will oversee all team operations.
Silver said he supported Levenson's decision, the AP added.
"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 told the AP. "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."
Levenson's exit comes on the heels of racially charged statements by Donald Sterling, then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was banned from the league for life earlier this year and forced to sell his team over his words. Levenson criticized Sterling in an interview saying he was "deeply offended" by what he heard from his fellow owner. (Interview clip can be found at bottom of this story.)
More from the AP:
In the email sent in August 2012, Levenson shared his observations of the fan experience at Hawks games. He said he concluded "southern whites" were uncomfortable at games.
"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," Levenson said in the email released Sunday by the Hawks.
"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 Hawks crowds were 70 percent black, the team's cheerleaders were black and hip-hop music was played.
"Then I start looking around at other arenas," Levenson said. "It is completely different."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Atlanta's population was 54 percent black and 38.4-percent white in 2010. For metro Atlanta, the ratio is 55.4 percent white and 32.4 percent black.
Levenson said he often heard fans say the area around Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta is dangerous.
"This was just racist garbage," Levenson said. "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."
Though he said he disagreed with the conclusion, he said he told team executives to add white cheerleaders and music "familiar to a 40-year-old white guy."
Added Levenson in the email: "I have even (complained) that the kiss cam is too black."
The Rev. Al Sharpton released a statement encouraging Silver "to continue vetting all owners," the AP reported.
"The announcement by Bruce Levenson is welcomed and appropriate by those of us in the civil rights community, that raised the issue of Donald Sterling's need to be removed, and that other owners must be held accountable," Sharpton said, the AP added.
Levenson apparently didn't feel the need to wait for the NBA's investigation into his email to conclude.
"If you're angry about what I wrote, you should be," Levenson said in Sunday's statement, the AP reported. "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."
You can read Levenson's entire email at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
And here's Levenson commenting on the Sterling controversy earlier this year:
This story has been updated.