SOME PEOPLE are saying it’s commendable that Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson self-reported a purportedly racist email he sent to team officials back in 2012. They are also applauding the fact that Levenson, in the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal, has agreed to sell his team even before an NBA investigation is complete.
But here’s the thing. The email that Levenson sent was not inherently racist. It was simply an owner’s honest (and in my view, accurate) evaluation of the reasons for his team’s failure to draw corporate and season ticket holders. It was a spot-on analysis of the social and racial circumstances that are so often ignored in favor of political correctness. For a team that was purchased for $208 million, and is now valued at $425 million, ranking it 27th among the 30 NBA teams, according to Forbes, a dose of honestly was sorely needed.
A little honesty on Bruce Levenson
In the wake of the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers following the release of a tape in which Clippers owner Donald Sterling spouted racist rhetoric, honesty is in short supply. Therefore, I’ll try to provide some honesty here.
Levenson’s offer to sell his team prior to the completion of an NBA investigation into his supposedly racist email might seem like the honorable thing to do. But let’s keep it real. The Clippers sold for $2 billion two months ago. If Levenson–who unsuccessfully tried to sell the hawks in 2011–can get anything close to that for the Atlanta Hawks, he will have made 10 times what he paid for the team, and he will never have to send another email as long as he lives.
Perhaps that’s too cynical a view, but when I look at Levenson’s email, I don’t see a racist who does not want the black audience that has been the backbone of his franchise. I see a man who understands his base, and is trying to figure out how to expand into a more affluent market.
Bruce Levenson’s email
“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. When I pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. Then I start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:
— it’s 70 pct black
— the cheerleaders are black
— the music is hip hop
— at the bars it’s 90 pct black
— there are few fathers and sons at the games
— we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.
“Then I start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience …
“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. Please don’t get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean (sic) 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. On fan sites I would read comments about how dangerous it is around Philips yet in our 9 years, I don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. 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.
“I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while I don’t care what the color of the artist is, I want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. I have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.”
What Bruce Levenson meant
Maybe it’s me, but saying that “there are just not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base” is not racism. It is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that white family wealth is six times that of blacks. In fact, his assertion is even deeper than that. According to the Washington Post, the richest whites are doing substantially better than the most well-off blacks, and I’m going to guess that most rich blacks are not spending their money on season tickets for basketball games.
This goes to Levenson’s next—and perhaps most controversial—point. That is, the black fans scared off the white fans.
Any black person who’s ever walked into a mostly white establishment, or sat in a meeting with mostly white co-workers, knows that this is not racist. This is simply the truth.
Michael Levens0n is not a racist. He is a realist. Having watched Donald Sterling walk away from the Clippers with $2 billion after his racists rant, Levenson figured he’d turn himself in.
After all, racism pays.
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning columnist. He is the creator and editor of Solomonjones.com. Click here to learn more about Solomon