Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Hawks owner is a businessman, not a racist

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn't see the Hawks owner as racist. (USATSI)

Bruce Levenson, the soon-to-be former Atlanta Hawks owner who sent the racially insensitive e-mail about the team’s crowd demographics, isn't a racist, according to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Instead, he's a businessman, as Kareem explained in this thoughtful piece from TIME

Rather than calling Levenson a no-context bigot, Kareem believes that, while making a few "cringeworthy" assumptions, the owner asked a few “entirely reasonable" questions.

After reading Levenson’s e-mail, which was uncovered following an independent investigation into controversial remarks made by Hawks GM Danny Ferry, Abdul-Jabbar concluded that the owner was just doing his job.

"Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in the seats. In the e-mail, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations), the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90 percent blacks, kiss cam focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans. … Seems reasonable to ask those questions," Kareem wrote.

"Business people should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business," he continued.

Abdul-Jabbar didn't absolve Levenson's assumptions about his team's lack of affluent black fans, though, as he shouldn't.

"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 wrote. Kareem did find fault with this broad-stroke assumption, though, he still found it a question that "needed to be raised, because racism is a realistic possibility as to why whites in Atlanta may not be coming."

Interestingly, the only other point Kareem disagreed with was how quickly Levenson caved to the court of public opinion. Agreeing with the basic tenor of his questions, Abdul-Jabbar wanted Levenson to stand by his initial inquiries, questions spawning from a business perspective, not a racially ignorant one. 

"He wasn't valuing white fans over blacks," Kareem concluded in his essay. "He was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could see more tickets. That's his job."

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