It’s possible that, even as an ardent NBA fan, you’d never heard Bruce Levenson’s name before Sunday morning.
Donald Sterling was a go-to joke for years. He made the cut of Jay Leno’s hackiest late night show jokes, and this was in the years after Jay rolled down his blazer sleeves and turned into the hackiest of hacks. His Clippers were a disgrace, his discriminatory practices were destructive, and his presence on the Clippers sideline was embarrassing and real. Billy Crystal and Penny Marshall may have drawn the red light of the cameras, but true NBA fans knew that Donald Sterling was the NBA’s great shame, a blight that David Stern refused to do anything about. That failure should forever loom large whenever anyone brings up Stern’s supposed accomplishments. Cable television deals can go to hell in response to enabling a racist slumlord for three decades.
Bruce Levenson? The Atlanta Hawks? Milquetoast, all. A team that shoots for 45 wins each year while working in a literal arena that looks like every other building while playing in red uniforms and blasting the same wedding party hits during timeouts and even during the game. Former Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles once complained about the Phillips Arena band pumping “get off your feet, Aunt Linda”-type hits like “Play That Funky Music” for the white boy crowd following a loss in 2007, and we don’t bring up this particular band’s choice of lyric nor the intended subject’s implication for a reason.
Levenson did that for us.
In a widely reported 2012 email, Levinson wildly wondered about the implications of owning a mostly African-American team coached (then) by an African-American coach in a mostly African-American city, positing and challenging his front office to field the sort of production that would lure older white males into his arena to secure season ticket passes. According to Levenson’s email, the cheerleaders (already a needless anachronism in 2012) needed to be whiter. The songs needed to fit the white man’s classic rock playlist. The Kiss Cam needed to show more couples with blue eyes – possibly while playing a KISS song along the way.
It was a ramble, but it was terrifyingly accurate. It is if you’re the sort of affluent white guy that has enough money to purchase an NBA team, wondering why you’re ranked third from last in attendance even while working out of one of the nation’s busiest cities.
What you should worry about, more than anything, is the related comment that current Hawks general manager Danny Ferry recently made about Luol Deng. Ferry, as reported in a column by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday, was described as having “some African in him,” which is as infuriating as it is telling.
Deng, who is Sudanese, sure does have some African in him. He should be proud of as much. I’ve never covered nor followed an NBA player that I respect more than Luol Deng, and if his pitch-perfect playing and sublime temperament are a result of his heritage, than we should all aspire to make more friends and commiserate more consistently with those that share Luol Deng’s lineage. The man is an absolute prince amongst mortals.
Of course, that doesn’t stop longtime NBAniks like Sam Smith – who is still trusted by the Chicago Bulls to act as their voice on record on their official website – from spouting off ridiculous opinions like these in 2010, via Blog-a-Bull:
My latest theory is growing up in Africa I don’t believe Deng was exposed to the nutrition our kids have and might have issues with bone strength.
Mr. Smith, it should be noted, has yet to earn his medical license. The Chicago Bulls’ medical staff, in 2010, should have been revoked of theirs – they wildly outed Deng as some sort of malingerer while he attempted to work through what was later diagnosed as a broken leg in 2010, the femur that “Dr.” Smith was attempting to diagnose while noting that Sudanese children don’t get enough milk with their Wheaties in the morning. Deng would go on to attempt to play through a botched spinal tap that the Bulls medical crew and current coach – the sainted Tom Thibodeau – publicly sniffed at two years later.
Straight white males are really good at their “latest theory,” at least in their own head. I’m one of them, and I’ve spent the entirety of my Monday creating my own. We love to dish about as to what people that don’t look like us both above or below the sheets like to do, we love to project our own hot takes as to what people that have nothing to do with us (for good reasons, in most aspects) would want to take in as consumers, and we love to nod tellingly when things go our way. This isn’t self-loathing, this is just privilege run amok. Sometimes – hell, usually – to destructive ends.
Luckily, in this pathetic instance, we’re only talking about a basketball team. A mediocre outfit in Atlanta that has trouble learning to aim for the fences in a town with the worst traffic in any city not named “Los Angeles” or “New York” while working in a town that is notorious for its in-person indifference to sports.
Bruce Levenson’s candor regarding an embarrassing email may have been a means to an end, a way to cash in on something in between the quarter of a billion the Milwaukee Bucks were recently sold for, and the actual $2 billion the Los Angeles Clippers were sold for in the wake of the NBA finally growing up and using Donald Sterling’s words and actions against him. We have no idea, because even though the NBA is a private league, its owners are publicly prone.
Millionaires and potential billionaires like Levenson are allowed to be racist behind the closed executive doors perched upon their particular ivory tower. You can get away with as much as long as you’re not one amongst 30 NBA owners, as opposed to one amongst thousands of straight white males running larger and larger businesses – thrashing away at the middle class that once supported you, taking more and more from the low-lying financial stanchions that dock below it.
It’s easy for me to write this, as my suburban neighbor’s lawnmower blares a yard away and as the cats in my living room tap at my ankles. I may not be able to afford season tickets for Atlanta Hawks games, but I can grill burgers on my back porch tonight, and my children are happy with what they have to wear to school the next day.
Here comes the #NotAllMen rant, though.
I worked for this privilege, from government-issued housing and a $150 weekly Sports Illustrated paycheck eight years ago to a position at this website that I coveted and respect above all else. I don’t deny the fact that because of the color of my skin and orientation and gender, however, that I am and will forever be privileged. That some outfits will prefer my three quarters to another man’s dollar. That some people on the street in Indianapolis will prefer seeing me walking down the road outside the Pacers’ arena with my ancient Blackberry and cuffed jeans to an African-American colleague of mine wearing a tailored suit that costs more than my monthly car payment.
It’s time to come clean, about such things. Bruce Levenson did as much on Sunday. The questions from here, however, remain the same.
Why did he do it, and how does this help anyone?
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