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Atlanta postpones meeting with civil rights leaders, Hawks situation a sticky mess

Danny Ferry

Danny Ferry


This much is clear: Whoever ends up buying the Atlanta Hawks has a lot of work to do to repair relationships and the team image in that city.

The latest stumble for the Hawks was the postponement of a meeting between Hawks CEO Steve Koonin and Atlanta civil rights leaders, which had been scheduled for Wednesday. That frustrated at least one community leader who was to be at the meeting, reports the Associated Press.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins announced Wednesday’s meeting was called off “at the last minute.” He later said he received a call from Hawks spokesman Garin Narain on Tuesday night asking that it be postponed. Hutchins said he needed to hear that request directly from Koonin.”

The Hawks released this statement:

“Koonin postponed today’s meeting last night. This conversation is a priority for us. We are committed to having this meeting and will work with community leaders to reschedule as soon as possible. We ask our community to work with us, be patient with us, and help us heal.”

The meeting will happen, but this delay understandably makes the local leaders feel like they are not the priority.

Majority Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his share of the team following discussions with the league about a 2012 email where Levenson talks about getting more white people to buy tickets, and how to change the in-arena experience to make them more comfortable. It was an awkward, crass email and Levenson is using this chance to tap out, and sell his shares at a huge profit.

The email was uncovered during an investigation following comments Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry said in a conference call with minority owners where, when speaking of free agent Luol Deng, said “he has got some African in him” and tried to compare him to a scam artist business man with a great facade of a building but sells counterfeit goods out the back.

That pushed minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. to push for Ferry’s dismissal.

But Gearon also is making his own power play in what has long been a fractured and dysfunctional ownership group. Adrian Wojnarowski lays it all out at Yahoo Sports.

One of the owners on the line in June, Michael Gearon Jr., had once been a far greater power player within the franchise. No more. Levenson and Ferry had neutralized him, and Gearon’s days of input into basketball decisions had been long gone. He disdained Ferry, and told people often inside and outside the organization: He longed for Ferry’s ouster as GM….

In all the twisted wreckage of these Hawks, make no mistake: Gearon is no whistle-blowing hero for racial justice, just as Ferry is no victim for falling into the trap….

Ferry found himself a pawn in a long-simmering ownership battle in Atlanta, and now he’s fighting to hold onto his job…. There are no heroes here, no winners — not even Michael Gearon, with whom the league office is livid. He had been hellbent on bringing down the power structure in Atlanta, including the GM, and yet perhaps history will remember this as the biggest irony of all: Danny Ferry did it to himself.

I have said before Ferry has to go, it’s the only way I can see a new owner clearing the decks and rebuilding a connection with the fan base. Plus, what free agent player is going to head there now? Are they going to be able to keep Paul Millsap after this season if he’s still around? Or Al Horford in 2016?

But that will be the issue for the new owner. As will how to get this long divisive ownership group on the same page. Organizations that win consistently — from the 60s Celtics through Jerry Buss’ Lakers to Peter Holt’s current Spurs — start with smart and unified ownership. If there’s power plays at the top it trickles down, and that has been the Hawks for years. And continues to be right now.