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Latest NBA controversy might not be as black and white as you think

Photo by Hector Alejandro CC

When I learned that another NBA owner had made dumb racist remarks, I didn’t know what to think—and I still don’t.

Bruce Levenson, the majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, willingly put his team up for sale Sept. 7 after it was revealed he sent an email in 2012 that contained some racially insensitive content.

Among the many questionable remarks Levenson made in this email, the one element that seems to anger people the most is the idea that the former Hawks owner was looking to attract more white fans to a predominantly black-populated arena.

“…many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low,” Levenson wrote in the now infamous email. “At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games.”

It appears that people are divided into two camps: people who think the email was blatantly racist and ignorant, and people who think what Levenson was trying to say made sense from a business point of view.

As for me, my mind is still spinning over the issue.

Although the black man in me is outraged and offended by Levenson’s language, the pragmatic side of me agrees with its message. Here you have a man who is simply trying to increase his profits by trying to draw in a larger, more diverse crowd.

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a column for Time magazine in which he called Levenson’s desire to attract more white fans to games “entirely reasonable.”

Others like ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith viewed Levenson’s departure as an overreaction.

“I found his statements to be, to some degree, more ignorant than anything else,” Smith said in the Sept. 8 edition of sports podcast First Take. “If it were not for the Donald Sterling fiasco, I believe an apology and a press conference would have been more than enough for him to get by this incident.”

I agree with Abdul-Jabbar and Smith to some extent, since I can’t fault Levenson for wanting to draw a bigger crowd. However, he should have used way better judgment and business savvy in composing this email.

I was mostly shocked by Levenson’s stupidity—did he not know that Atlanta has one of the largest black populations in the United States? Did he not consider the fact that if this email got out it would immediately blow up in his face? Moreover, few things irk me more than people saying something is too black or not white enough.

What I read in Levenson’s words is that black money is not good enough. But if the black fans decided to boycott the team, would their money be good enough then? If he thinks his crowd is too black, does he think the same about his team? Until the team is sold, good luck convincing free agents to sign in Atlanta anytime soon.

Any type of racism is wrong and you really can’t condone the language used by Levenson. But that doesn’t mean he has to be thrown to the wolves.