We’re not saying the Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson sent a racist email, but the NBA says he did. The NBA decided that Levenson’s 2012 email was so racially offensive that it is forcing him to sell his team. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is clearly seeking to avoid another Donald Sterling-level embarrassment for the league–and trying to get in front of the story instead of reacting to it. He’s done a good job there, but is Silver being sensible and fair? Without Donald Sterling, does this email sound the same kind of alarms for the commissioner?
The first, predictable wave of reaction was filled with condemnation of Levenson from all quarters, but NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defends Bruce Levenson in an opinion piece for Time magazine. Abdul-Jabbar points out that even if Levenson’s email was inelegantly phrased, the owner was asking legitimate business questions about an enterprise that needs to expand its audience in order to thrive. Levenson cuts to the chase in his email, wondering if all the Hawks cheerleaders have to be black, why the bars at the stadium are 90% black, etc. But Abdul-Jabbar, rather than take offense at these observations, compares it to a situation familiar to all big companies who try “feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads.” The Hawks owner was doing the same thing, Abdul-Jabbar contends. Levenson was trying to sell more tickets, and you can’t do that without accurately assessing the situation at hand.