(JTA) — Bruce Levenson, who owns a controlling interest in the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, is selling his stake in the team after self-reporting a racially insensitive email he sent two years ago.
Levenson and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the sale on Sunday in separate statements. Levenson voluntarily reported the email, in which he racially stereotyped African-American fans, to the NBA.
Levenson, who is Jewish, apologized in his statement for the email sent to the team’s co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry complaining that black fans were keeping white fans from attending games.
“I’m truly embarrassed by my words in that e-mail, and I apologize to the members of the Hawks family and all of our fans,” he wrote.
The statement was posted on the Hawks’ website.
“After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise,” Levenson wrote.
“Over the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with low attendance at our games and the need for the Hawks to attract more season ticket holders and corporate sponsors. Over that time, I’ve talked with team executives about the need for the Hawks to build a more diverse fan base that includes more suburban whites, and I shared my thoughts on why our efforts to bridge Atlanta’s racial sports divide seemed to be failing.”
He added: “By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”
Silver called the remarks “entirely unacceptable and in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association.” He commended Levenson for his cooperation during the league’s investigation.
In March, Levenson joined the Hawks for a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The players heard from and were accompanied by Levenson’s mother-in-law, Irene Boyarsky, a Holocaust survivor.
Levenson is stepping down in the aftermath of a Jewish NBA owner, Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers, being forced to sell his team by the league after making racist comments that were secretly recorded. Sterling’s wife sold the team for $2 billion last month.