A crisis can happen anywhere, anytime. It could be Domino’s employees stuffing pizza dough up their nostrils and then posting it to YouTube, or an employee getting in a drunk-driving accident. But what happens when the crisis starts at the top? That’s what the Atlanta Hawks are learning to deal with thanks to Bruce Levenson, controlling owner of the franchise.
In summer 2012, Levenson sent racist emails to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry concerning several NBA free agents. Ferry kept the emails to himself for two years until he read them verbatim in a meeting with all of the Hawks owners. Offended by the remarks, other Hawks owners told Bruce to “self-report” the emails to the league and pressured Levenson to sell his 50.1 percent share of the team.
So what exactly is Levenson losing here? A better question may be how much is Levenson gaining? In January 2014 the L.A. Clippers were worth an estimated $575 million, but in August the team sold for $2 billion. Just one month after the sale in L.A., the “For Sale” sign went up in Atlanta, making Hawks fans a little skeptical of the timing. When Levenson first sent the offending email, Forbes guesstimated the Hawks value to be $270 million. Today, the team’s value today is estimated at $825 million, an increase of over 200 percent. It isn’t hard to imagine why he would self-report the email.
This time it wasn’t a rogue employee who created a crisis, or an inappropriate tweet by an intern. It was the controlling owner. And because of it, someone will be the proud new owner of a very appealing NBA franchise, which has turned a losing record a year ago into the second-best record in the league.
Atlanta fans get a fresh start. The future is bright for the Hawks. A group including baseball legend Hank Aaron is in the running to purchase the team, as are groups with former NBA players. What’s more, the new owners may help resolve the many differences between the league and its players union. Let’s hope all 30 NBA owners can learn from these incidents and help shape a future without racism at the top of the NBA.