Hawks show race needn’t be our downfall

There were plenty of fans of, well, all colors at the Hawks' playoff opener Sunday night. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

There were plenty of fans of, well, all colors at the Hawks’ playoff opener Sunday night. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

Sometimes it seems like race has to figure into every story around here.

The Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial? It escaped few people’s notice that all the defendants were black. (So were the district attorney and most of the cheated students, but that often got lost.) There might be an expansion of mass transit? Better think about what part of town — if you know what I mean — is getting it. Spending more state dollars on transportation infrastructure? We gotta talk about whether minority contractors get enough business.

These issues tend to be, from the perspective of someone born more than a decade after the height of the civil rights movement, more contentious than necessary. Even, or maybe especially, in the South, my cohort grew up having the virtues of color-blindness extolled — only to be blindsided by the constant color-consciousness of the adult world.

So it’s heartening to see a happier ending to one of our uglier racially charged episodes of recent vintage.

It was just seven months ago that an explosive story broke about race and the Atlanta Hawks. The general manager, Danny Ferry, remains suspended for making racially offensive comments about a free agent player. The team’s majority shareholder, Bruce Levenson, speculated about “Southern whites” staying away from the team’s games because the arena experience was “too black.”

Well, last night Philips Arena was packed for the Hawks’ playoff opener, as it has been for the better part of this season. The Hawks have seen an NBA-leading 21 percent increase in attendance this year, even beating out Cleveland upon the return of LeBron James.

Isn’t it amazing what winning 75 percent of your games and topping the conference, as opposed to 46 percent on the way to an eighth-place finish, will do for your business, Mr. Levenson?

Fans, white or black or otherwise, weren’t staying away before because of who they might end up sitting next to, or what kind of music they might hear over the arena’s speakers. They were staying away because the team wasn’t worth watching, much less paying to watch.

And now? Fans, white or black or otherwise, are showing up because the Hawks play the best brand of basketball this city has seen in almost three decades.

OK, good for the Hawks. And good, if perversely so, for Levenson and his co-owners who stand to profit handsomely from the team’s resurgence whenever its sale — brought on by that ugly racial episode of last summer — is completed. What does it mean for the rest of us?

Don’t get me wrong: I know not everything’s fine when it comes to racial relations. There are plenty of stories that don’t need over-hyping to prove that’s true. But maybe the Hawks’ story shows we’re too quick to retreat to our racial corners when things don’t go well.

Maybe, for example, the APS teachers weren’t prosecuted because they were black. Maybe it was because they orchestrated egregious cheating.

And maybe, too, white Atlantans are too quick to dismiss any complaint involving race as just “playing the race card.” Maybe there are more instances than we’d like to admit where it’s a legitimate problem.

This much, however, is definite: It doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t take a franchise-best season from a basketball team to show us that.

Reader Comments 0

43 comments
Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Best brand of basketball this city has EVER seen, Kyle.  Atlanta has never had a better player than 'Nique, but that group around him stretched the meaning of the word team.  We have never had a team as good as this one. 

As for the vague reference of your cohort, I wish you could have 'splained that one.  I missed who you were talking about. 

ALibNotToBeMessedW/
ALibNotToBeMessedW/

 Again, like the Hawks' attendance, I think there's another, much more accurate explanation at hand.


The link between the Hawks' performance and its attendance is a linear one. As the Hawks' performance has improved, so, too, has attendance at Hawks games.


The President's popularity, on the other hand, is inversely proportional to his success.  By any objective measure, the nation has prospered under his leadership.  And yet opposition to his Presidency continues to grow.  The 'missing link' is his blackness.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@ALibNotToBeMessedW/ 

One of the most cynical arguments of the conservatives is that the income inequality has increased during the President Obama’s presidency, after all the efforts of the Republicans to defeat any effort to take measures to decrease it.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Have many objections to president Obama been based on race? No doubt about it – anybody who has eyes and ears could see and hear that.

Was the preponderance of the objections based SOLELY on race? Nobody is the knowledge to answer truly that question, neither by claiming that it is true, nor by claiming it is not true.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The color of discrimination isn't white and black; it is GREEN!  

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

All too often the race card is played opportunistically. When that happens the legitimacy of real racial discrimination is diminished. Constant and unfounded accusations have a tendency to desensitize people.

I don't attend any sports events. As far as basketball goes, things get a little squeaky for my taste.

Squeak....squeak....squeak....

as they run to and fro. 

straker
straker

HDB - "the South has never been color blind"


I don't know anybody who would argue that.

scottw_
scottw_

I prefer to watch the Hawks on TV. It's safer.

HDB0329
HDB0329

...problem is, Kyle...the SOUTH has NEVER been color blind....and the preponderance of issues have always had a racial component to it! Those who choose to ignore that fact do nothing but perpetuate the idea that the South is still as backwards now as it was then........

Getting_Older
Getting_Older

I liked the article, and with respect to the Hawks, I agree, winning trumps all and makes everything good and everyone get along.  However, just looking at the comments in the blog, it unfortunately doesn't appear to carry over everywhere...

ALibNotToBeMessedW/
ALibNotToBeMessedW/

 And maybe, too, white Atlantans are too quick to dismiss any complaint involving race as just “playing the race card.” Maybe there are more instances than we’d like to admit where it’s a legitimate problem.


And maybe, too, white Americans - generally speaking - are too quick to dismiss complaints about opposition to the President being based, in part, on the color of his skin.  Maybe there are more instances than we'd like to admit where opposition to the President precisely because of the color of his skin is a legitimate problem.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HDB0329 "the preponderance of the objections were based SOLELY on race"

This simply isn't true.

HDB0329
HDB0329

@Kyle_Wingfield @ALibNotToBeMessedW/ ...in many cases, however, that is the TRUTH that many refuse to admit to........particularly in the GOP!! The resistance to the Obama Administration started BEFORE the First Inauguration.......and the preponderance of the objections were based SOLELY on race...........

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HDB0329 Its truer than you think


I heard the jokes EVERYWHERE I went after he was elected the first time.


From Watermelon Patch on the WH lawn to New Rims on the limo to not needing a Chef just KFC.


I'm sure in the Ivory Tower academic circles you stay in it isn't. But in the real world 


IT IS 

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@HDB0329 @Kyle_Wingfield @ALibNotToBeMessedW/ Kyle lives under the delusion that Centuries of Institutional racism just went poof in less than a generation.


And in the South no less.


Im sure in his mind Racism is limited to a 5 mile perimeter around the Waffle House in Stone Mountain.


I dont know what South he grew up in. But it ain't the one I grew up in.


Ill give you a real world example. Until pretty recently ( 20 years or so )  it was a well known fact in my hometown, LaGrange Ga, that the YMCA was whites only. 


If you applied and you were black you were told they werent accepting new applications. 


My Dad can remember black people being afraid to step foot inside the Y and having to relay messages to someone inside for a black women who was too afraid to go in. And that was in the 70's .

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar "Kyle lives under the delusion that Centuries of Institutional racism just went poof in less than a generation."

Headley is incapable of honestly evaluating what I've written.

I never went that far, not anywhere near it, and an intellectually honest person would be able to recognize that.

ALibNotToBeMessedW/
ALibNotToBeMessedW/

@Kyle_Wingfield @HDB0329

Or it simply is true.  It is very difficult to prove either assertion.  But I'm curious how you resolve the inherent contradiction between acknowledging that maybe sometimes race does play a part in some things (as you did in this piece), while categorically denying that race may have something to do with opposition to the president.  In a country with as much of a history of racial strife as this one, which we know continues to this very day, I have no idea how you can conclude that race doesn't play a part. This is especially true when you consider that the President's record is actually a very good one, especially in light of the economic and military destruction wrought by the administration of the person who preceded the current President.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar You poo poo it every chance you get.


I applaud you for your article. Although as I stated I have no idea what filling an 18,000 seat arena says. My bet is nothing.


But A LOT of the push back against Obama is precisely because of his race. Its why opposition to him is by far strongest in the South.


Bringing it up isn't " playing the race card "


Denying it isn't honest either. 



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ALibNotToBeMessedW/ "may have something to do with opposition to the president"

No, I can't categorically deny that some people dislike Obama because of his skin color. I am, however, convinced that this number is very, very small compared to those who dislike him for his policies. There simply has been too much support among conservatives for people like Herman Cain, Tim Scott, Allen West, Mia Love, et al. for race to be the kind of problem with respect to Obama that you insist it is.

Again, like the Hawks' attendance, I think there's another, much more accurate explanation at hand.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar "You poo poo (sic) it every chance you get."

I don't think pushing back against HDB's assertion, that the "preponderance" of the opposition is "solely" to do with race, is in the same ZIP code as "pooh-poohing" race as a factor.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

I'm happy for the Hawks, but don't care a great deal for the NBA.  I prefer NCAA basketball, since it seems more akin to the game as it was designed to be played, defense and hustle.  Does that make me a racist? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister No, it doesn't make you a racist, but I disagree. Other than the final 3-4 minutes of NCAA tournament games, I find college basketball unwatchable these days.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

@RafeHollister  If you read the rule book and then watch a game, you will wonder what they are playing,  because they don't follow the rules of basketball. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Kyle_Wingfield @RafeHollister Well the college game involves strategy, exploiting the other guys weaknesses, and defense, an acquired taste I'm guessing, kinda like baseball.  It's more of a thinking mans game, IMHO, rather than the exhibition style  fly-slammajamma, or a three pointer from midcourt.  It is like blonds and brunette's everyone has a preference.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister That's not the college game I've seen on display in recent years. It's also hard to watch in large part because of the officiating -- and here, I mean in games where I have no rooting interest but simply want to see a good basketball game.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Like UGA and the Braves,  the Hawks can't win the "Big" one....

n8diggidy
n8diggidy

Very good points Kyle. Unfortunately people on both sides will continue to avail themselves to the perceived advantages of keeping the issue decisively front and center.  Ultimately it is a product of the human race, so it will never be perfect and others will always use it to their advantage.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Is the point of the column that Mr. Levenson was wrong? Duh! Moreover, the point that the success of the team is instrumental in attendance has been made on the pages of AJC or this blog before.

Or is it that “not everything’s fine when it comes to racial relations,” on both sides? Duh again.

straker
straker

logical - "equals broad brush strokes"


And, when it comes to plainly seeing what is right in front of you, "logical" is not the word I would use.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

Not really sure what filling an 18,000 seat arena tells us about anything.


They are winning so the seats are filled. But 18,000 is a pretty small sample size to draw any conclusions from.

Starik
Starik

It may be in our genes, hard-wired.  We evolved as small groups, now we have bigger groups. Like nation-states and races.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

I try to look at everyone in the world as people first.  When anyone, anywhere attempts to demean another "group" of people for being in that "group", then I see a bias that needs to be overcome. 

It takes more people interacting with each other outside of their own "group" and joining other "groups" in activities. 

Unfortunately, too many people are so ingrained in their own "group" that they can't get out of the fear of the other and join another group in anything. 


And a good example of this interaction is a basketball game. Good article Kyle! 

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

Kyle, you're talking about the founding charter and mission statement of the US Government's Executive Branch for the last 6 years, I wouldn't lay it to rest quite yet. It has a way of coming back on us.


But we get the gist and agree wholeheartedly.

TBS
TBS

Good article.

Thanks

straker
straker

"it doesn't have to be this way"


But it is.


And, until "civil responsibility"  becomes as important as "civil rights" in the overall Black community, it will stay this way.