On Sunday, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson announced that he's selling his controlling interest of the franchise after admitting that he wrote the team's co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry an "inappropriate and offensive" email laced with racist comments toward African-Americans.
On Monday, Yahoo Sports reported that the origins of Levenson selling his controlling interest actually started with Ferry's referencing of then-free agent, now Miami Heat forward Luol Deng.
"He's still a young guy overall," Ferry said on a team conference call, NBA sources with direct knowledge of the league's probe on the Hawks told Yahoo Sports. “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."
Ferry's off-putting remarks about Deng reportedly caused at least one team owner to spark an independent investigation to learn how the franchise operated in regard to race. That investigation led to Levenson's August 2012 email.
"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."
That statement is why Levenson blew the whistle on himself and decided to sell his share of the Hawks.
"In trying to address those issues, I wrote an email two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive," he wrote in a statement to the media, including ESPN. "I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. Black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our Black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our Black fans."
"If you're angry about what I wrote, you should be," Levenson added in the statement. "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."
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(Photos from left: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)