Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Monday jumped to the defense of Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson and the racially charged email that spurred him to sell his interest in the team.
In his Time Magazine column, Abdul-Jabbar did not completely let Levenson off the hook, but he argued that the questions the NBA owner raised have been misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.
“The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote about the media coverage of Levenson’s email. “Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.”
The basketball star wrote that Levenson was merely trying to better his business by assessing why certain customers might be discouraged from attending games.
“Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats,” he wrote.
In the email, Levenson wonders why “southern whites” are uncomfortable at the Hawks arena.
Abdul-Jabbar said it was reasonable for Levenson to raise questions that could help him diversify the crowd at games.
“If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders?” Abdul-Jabbar asked.
He does acknowledge one comment by Levenson that made him “cringe”:
“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 in the 2012 email.
But Abdul-Jabbar said that people should be allowed to make mistakes.
“Business people should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffs if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent,” he wrote. “He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks, he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.”
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