While the media is going to be drawing every possible parallel between Bruce Levenson and former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, this isn’t the same cavse. The Atlanta Hawks will be sold eventually, but this isn’t the same case of blatant, semi-hidden racism that at some point exploded in a way that couldn’t be ignored anymore.
Levenson isn’t a hateful racist. He’s a business man who wasn’t being politically correct in an email (read the full e-mail here). But in the Adam Silver regime and in the current racial climate, being racially insensitive brings you the same results as actually being racist.
Levenson isn’t doing this because it was a mistake. He’s doing it because it was going to be leaked out, so he decided for a preemptive strike, by coming forth himself. The Hawks aren’t a one-man owned team. It’s a group divided between Atlanta based owners and those from Washington DC, like Levenson. The whole investigation into the e-mails and documents came from one of the shareholders after Danny Ferry, the team’s general manager, read out without editing a potential free-agent target’s background, which included a racist remark.
The e-mail was found, and the Hawks informed the NBA. That got the ball rolling, getting Adam Silver involved, while other owners around the league were also made aware of the situation. This happened behind the scenes, but it seemed that from the moment Levenson was “exposed” it was always about kicking him out of the ownership group and for him to sell his part of the team.
There’s also the conspiracy theory, which suggests that Levenson saw the prices other owners were getting for their teams: $500 million for the Milwaukee Bucks, $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA will be leading the sale of the franchise, which has made the playoffs for the past seven seasons but remains a struggling entity in Atlanta in terms of popularity and ticket sales.
There are quite a few ownership groups trying to get their hands on an NBA team, which should make this an easy sale for the NBA. Levenson won’t be heading the negotiations. The Hawks are only 28th in the NBA in attendance, and have the Philips Arena on lease until the 2017-2018 season.
Levenson isn’t exactly a Dark Night taking the blame for nothing, but this isn’t the Donald Sterling case, of an owner the league was happy to get rid of. Levenson was well liked by the Hawks players and around the league. However, the kind of remarks he made about the differences between blacks and whites in the arena weren’t going to be glanced over by anyone, and road out of the league once the e-mail was exposed was only a matter of time.