Atlanta Hawks Stay “True To Atlanta” Highlighting Rappers After Racial Controversy
BY: John “Hennry” Harris
In September 2014, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves embroiled in a racial controversy right on the heels of Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, making racist remarks that placed the team right in the cross hairs of a public relations nightmare.
Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry made racially insensitive remarks about Sudanese-born Luol Deng and the internal investigation over that statement revealed that co-owner Bruce Levenson complained in a 2012 email that Blacks were keeping potential White fans from games.
Since then, the Hawks have been collaborating with some of Atlanta’s biggest hip-hop stars like T.I., Ludacris and Big Boi in a concerted effort to make amends with the fans and people of the Southern mecca after the racially charged incidents.
The artists have been brought in by the Hawks to perform during halftime and after Hawks’ home games in a campaign that has adopted the slogan “True to Atlanta” and the NBA franchise has apologized to the city in an open letter.
T.I., who had performed at games before the racial incidents, appeared in a commercial with Hawks CEO Steve Koonin urging fans to attend the home opener, where he performed.
“We wanted to fix our relationship with the city,” said Koonin, an Atlanta native who is white. “Southern hip-hop is born here. It’s part of our DNA. We just believe the convergence of sports and entertainment, NBA basketball and hip-hop are a natural blend to continue to grow our business.”
Since the 2014 home opener, the Hawks have had 39 sellouts with an average attendance of 17,246 in the regular season and playoffs in an 18,000 seat arena.
“I knew the executive staff prior to all the hoopla,” T.I. said. “The person at the nucleus of the conflict, I never had any much interaction with them anyway. It wasn’t very difficult for me to make a decision. I’m going to rock with the people who I know, because I can speak to their integrity. I can judge their character.”
But of course, not everyone is happy – including some Black Atlanta Hawks fans. Jesse Mills, who runs an Atlanta-based branding agency, feels that the Hawks move to showcase rappers was a smart move initially to build trust with the Black fan base, but feels the continued use of rappers may alienate Whites and offend some Blacks. Ironically, his sentiments mirror former Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson’s 2012 email complaining that Blacks kept potential White fans away from games.
“It seems to me like they’re saying ‘We need more black people, get more rappers,” Mills said. “That’s the message I got as an educated, discerning African-American that doesn’t just listen exclusively to rap/hip-hop music in my playlist. There’s a contingency of others in Atlanta that I represent.”
The Hawks are coming off a franchise-record 60 wins last year and earned a spot in the Eastern Conference final last year.
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