Atlanta Hawks Owner Bruce Levenson Sent Racist Email in 2012, Will Sell Team

The NBA announced on Sunday that Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his interest in the franchise. Levenson is selling his team due to an email he sent to other Hawks owners and team GM Danny Ferry in 2012. The email offered suggestions by Levenson to increase the team’s white male fanbase and presented stereotypical observations about the Hawks’ black fans. Levenson actually reported himself to the league back in July and gave NBA commissioner Adam Silver the email. Silver has been investigating the issue since, and Levenson decided to go ahead and sell his interest in the franchise rather than become a distraction.

To Levenson’s credit, he takes full ownership of the content of his email. He released a statement on Sunday apologizing for his comments and chastising himself for focusing on race when it came to the team’s fans while pushing broad stereotypes and biased opinions. “In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans. If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.”

Deadspin got a hold of the full email on Sunday. Below are excerpts from Levenson’s email, courtesy of Deadspin. “4. Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following: it’s 70 pct black, the cheerleaders are black, the music is hip hop, at the bars it’s 90 pct black, there are few fathers and sons at the games, we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel. My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games. I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black. And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).”

The Rev. Al Sharpton released a statement on Sunday applauding Levenson’s decision to sell the team in light of his comments.“The announcement by Bruce Levenson is welcomed and appropriate by those of us in the civil rights community, that raised the issue of Donald Sterling’s need to be removed, and that other owners must be held accountable.”

Sharpton also called on Silver to continue vetting prospective and current owners of franchised to ensure that issues surrounding race relations with fans and players are properly addressed and resolved.

In the end, Levenson should be commended to a degree for bringing this to the attention of the league and taking the step to sell the team and remove his association with the NBA and Atlanta Hawks. With the issues the league had to deal with surrounding former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling still fresh on everyone’s mind, it is imperative that the NBA make the proper decisions regarding this situation. Thankfully, Levenson realizes the error of his ways and is taking steps to try to make it right. While his words were reprehensible and should be condemned, Levenson knows they were wrong and isn’t trying to make an excuse for them.

 

Kevin Durant Leaves Team USA, Leaves Giant Hole In Roster

Kevin Durant was supposed to be the bedrock of Team USA. He was their best player, he was their leader, and he was the man that would lead the team to glory against all-comers of the world.

But on Thursday, he dropped a nuclear bomb on Team USA by withdrawing himself from the team. Durant never gave a reason as to why he was packing his bags and heading back to Oklahoma City. But a big part of the reason for his sudden departure was the freak Paul George injury.

Durant was one of the players traumatized by that incident, and after thinking about it and wondering if the same thing could happen to him, Durant wanted no part of it. The NBA season is far more important than the FIBA World Cup, and risking his season — a season in which he could win his first NBA title — is just too much to fathom.

So with Durant’s sudden departure, that leaves the team with a gigantic void to fill not only in the starting power forward spot, where Durant was slated to play, but in the leadership. The only player with significant leadership capabilities on the team is Derrick Rose, but it is yet to be seen if he is back to his old self after a year and a half of battling injuries.

You have to get the feeling that Team USA just got significantly weaker with the loss of Durant, and the aura surrounding the team is now gone. Team USA had a chance to do something special, to continue to show the world that the USA is a basketball nation.

They still can, as the team still has a wealth of talent on the roster. But without there leader, I just don’t see how Team USA can be favorites going up against the best the world has to offer.

Team USA is in trouble.

Cleveland Cavaliers Smart to Have Agreement to Trade for Kevin Love

The Cleveland Cavaliers will become the clear favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2014-15 NBA Finals if their agreement to acquire Kevin Love in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves goes through.

According to Yahoo! Sports, the agreement is in principle because the actual trade cannot occur until Aug. 23 due to Andrew Wiggins not being able to be dealt until exactly one month after signing his rookie contract. The trade will send Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first-round draft pick to the Timberwolves for Love. The agreement also states that Love will opt out of his contract and sign a five-year, $120 million contract extension with the Cavaliers.

With Kyrie Irving playing point guard and Love dominating the frontcourt, superstarLeBron James will have the necessary pieces in place to lead Cleveland on a legitimate postseason run that should end with a NBA Finals appearance. Even though James stated in his return essay that he believed it would take a couple years to reach the top of the mountain with the Cavaliers, the addition of Love will certainly speed up that process. In fact, if the Cavaliers do not reach the NBA Finals in the depleted Eastern Conference, the 2014-15 season is a major fail.

As far as the Timberwolves are concerned, they are definitely not getting the raw end of the deal. Minnesota had no shot of re-signing Love in free agency as he basically told the organization he would not return. Therefore, getting Wiggins, Bennett and a 2015 first-round pick is very good. Not to mention, pairing up Wiggins with fellow rookie Zach LaVine, who is by far the most athletic player among the 2014-15 rookie class, could mean that success is right around the corner for the Timberwolves.

It will be interesting to see if James, Love and Irving will be able to find the necessary chemistry this upcoming season to make the previous “Big Three” in Miami look like nothing.

Celtics Circuit: C’s Sign Evan Turner

After several weeks of speculation, Evan Turner has found his new home. The 25-year old forward will reportedly sign a deal with the Boston Celtics.

This obviously means that he’ll be playing for his third team going into his fifth NBA season, and that his stint with the Indiana Pacers can officially be labeled as a failure.

Who knows how many teams expressed interest in signing Turner, but you have to believe multiple offers were on his table. The fact that he chose the Celtics shows that he’s looking for an opportunity to prove himself, rather than an opportunity to win games.

The Celtics aren’t going to be awful next season, but they’re not going to be good either. Perhaps Turner is looking for a chance to grow right along with his team? He’ll definitely get that chance Boston.

While it’s inaccurate to label Turner as a flop thus far in his career, it’s also hard to say he’s living up to No. 2 overall pick hype. But all in all he appears to be on pace for a solid NBA career. He’s averaged double-digits in each of his first four seasons, with an increase in PPG each year.

It’s too early to close the book on Turner as an NBA star, but the safe bet at this point is that he’ll end up being a solid No. 3 or 4 guy by the end of his time in the Association. He needs more time to development, and he’ll have that in Boston.

LeBron James is Returning to Cleveland

https://soundcloud.com/derek-ferreira/lebron-james-is-returning-to-cleveland

Well it actually happened, LeBron James is heading back to Northwest Ohio. Earlier today, Sports Illustrated broke the news with an exclusive letter from Mr. James to senior writer Lee Jenkins describing why it is time for him to go back to the team where it all began, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Four years and three days after “The Decision” turned James into a bit of a pariah in many circles, James could not have announced his decision more differently.

Who’s Improved More Since 2013 Finals, Heat or Spurs?

The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are really getting the hang of this whole NBA Finals thing.

With the Spurs putting the Oklahoma City Thunder away in a classic Game 6 overtime, attention now turns to who has the edge in a Finals rematch that pits two legacies against one another once again. Both sides have made strides since the last go-around, but who’s come the furthest?

Recent evidence suggests a mix of conclusions.

 

The Miami Heat have seemingly waltzed through the postseason, sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats, taking the Brooklyn Nets in five games and finally dispatching the Indiana Pacers in a six-game series that was never as close as it looked.

The Spurs, meanwhile, have been tested. It took them seven games to get through the first round against the Dallas Mavericks. They faced a hungry, young team in the Portland Trail Blazers during the second round. And the Thunder pushed the Spurs six games, twice blowing them out at home and nearly pulling a third win out on Saturday night.

If you measure a team’s improvement by the ease with which it conquered the first three rounds of the playoffs, Miami is the better team right now.

If you give credence to the notion that adversity inspires growth, it’s hard to deny San Antonio has come a long way.

Remember, these Spurs lost to the Thunder four times during the regular season. Were it not for Serge Ibaka missing the first two games with a calf injury, it would have been hard to describe San Antonio as a favorite in that series. 

When Ibaka did return in Game 3, a whole lot of momentum came with him. But for a 28-point Game 5 win, the Spurs might not have regained that momentum. It was a series of wild swings, the kind of series that could have exposed the Spurs as something less than a championship team.

Instead, it showed the Spurs have changed. 

Growing Pain

 

There’s a killer instinct now.

It was missing in 2012 when the Spurs allowed the Thunder back into the series after jumping out to a 2-0 lead. OKC rattled off four straight victories and sent the Spurs home after a dominant postseason stretch. Good as those Spurs were, they played without the desperation we’re seeing now.

That killer instinct was missing in last season’s NBA Finals, too. The Spurs controlled that series, 3-2, and were in position to take Game 6 until the waning seconds famously changed all that.

 

 

It’s hard to see the Spurs getting burned again. They’ve arguably been playing the best basketball in the world for the last three years. But they haven’t gotten the results, not like Miami has.

The adversity San Antonio has faced is cumulative. It’s not just about a rough postseason this time around. It’s the combined effect of twice coming up short after making deep runs. It’s the way in which they came up short, too.

 

Admittedly, though, it’s hard to measure things like motivation or inspiration. When you dig deep in your gut, you get a feeling for a team’s personality. But speculation about these Spurs’ collective identity is just that—guesswork.

Albeit educated guesswork. It doesn’t take a shrink to know Tim Duncan wants this like none other. He knows his opportunities to return are limited. At 38 years old, Duncan could retire any day now. He’s on a mission this time, trying to make the most of what could be his last chance.

 

More than motivational factors, there are also very real lessons learned. Those lessons sink in on account of failure, and the Spurs’ failures on the biggest of stages have engendered a year-long study session. These Spurs are better at closing teams out, better at executing down the stretch. They value possessions more. They take their time. They do the little things.

They do what it takes to win. For a team that’s long been more concerned with process than results, the results suddenly have renewed importance.

But even if you don’t buy into the intangibles, there’s at least one concrete reason to believe these Spurs have taken the next step.

The Supporting Cast

 

The Spurs aren’t leaning quite so heavily on Tony Parker this time around, and that may be especially key early on in this series. Parker didn’t return to Saturday night’s game in the second half due to a sore ankle. If that soreness doesn’t let up in the coming days, San Antonio might get off to a slow start.

It’s the kind of factor that would have doomed last season’s Spurs.

Parker was slowed by injury against the Heat last time, and it clearly cost San Antonio during the latter half of the series. This time, though, San Antonio’s rotation is better equipped to play without Parker. It did so for 14 games during the regular season. And it did so again during the second half of Game 6 against OKC.

While Miami’s core is on its game, San Antonio’s “others” are stepping up at an unprecedented rate.

 

Mills has been especially crucial. His performances were uneven against the Thunder, but he made contributions even when not scoring. Despite coming up empty in Game 6 from the field, he snatched three steals that helped keep the Spurs transition game flowing.

Belinelli averaged 11.4 points this season and gives the Spurs a deadeye shooter off the bench. He’s been in and out of the rotation during the postseason, but he figures to play a bigger role against Miami given his experience playing against the Heat as a Chicago Bull.

As always, San Antonio’s second unit is led by Manu Ginobili, who’s having a resurgent season by any metric. He was a non-factor in all but two games against the Heat during the 2013 run. His postseason was uninspiring, dotted with far too many single-digit scoring efforts.

But he’s flipped the script in 2014, looking every bit the world-class sixth man he was five years ago. He may be 36 now, but he’s playing with more vigor than we’ve seen in a while, averaging 15.2 points against the Thunder and 17.7 in the first round against Dallas.

When Manu’s three-point shot is falling, San Antonio is awfully tough to stop. But the even more encouraging sign is that he’s taking the ball to the basket more deliberately than before, finishing like he did in his prime.

Among San Antonio’s supporting cast, the real X-factor may be Boris Diaw. He averaged 13.2 points against OKC and dropped 26 in the decisive Game 6.

The problem for Miami is that it can’t know where the help is going to come from. It’s someone different every night, and that’s how it’s supposed to work with a truly ensemble effort. These role players succeed because of a system that puts them in position to succeed.

They’re all doing their jobs better than they did a season ago, and that could be the difference. This series won’t be won by LeBron James or Tony Parker, nor Tim Duncan or Dwyane Wade.

It will be won by the Ginobilis and Ray Allens of the series, the guys who make timely clutch shots. It will be decided by Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen, the ones who do the lion’s share of the unsung dirty work.

That’s where San Antonio’s edge has grown most.

Speaking of Kawhi Leonard

 

San Antonio’s 22-year-old has really emerged this season as one of the league’s very best two-way players. He will be San Antonio’s best bet to keep a hand in LeBron’s face, but he’ll also have more responsibilities on the offensive end this time around.

He took 21 shots on Saturday night, his most by far of the entire postseason.

Leonard came on big toward the end of last season’s Finals, taking on increased responsibility as Parker faded from the series. He scored a combined 41 points in Games 6 and 7 of that series, leaving San Antonio a bittersweet hint of what was just around the corner.

The swingman’s game has developed nicely over the last season, yielding more improvement than anyone in Miami can boast. Leonard’s in-between game is significantly better. He now pulls up for mid-range jumpers without giving it a second thought. He drives to the hoop regularly, even showing off a nifty floater in the lane.

A season ago, Leonard wasn’t much more than a corner-three shooter with a penchant for scrapping for offensive rebounds and other hustle points.

Now, he has an increasingly polished scoring repertoire, the kind that will actually force James to work on both ends of the floor. Having an additional offensive threat on the wing to worry about could also deter head coach Erik Spoelstra from assigning James to guard Parker.

Leonard won’t score 20 points a game in this series, but he could quietly emerge as a difference maker. Spurs fans have waited for the day when he’d become more assertive with his game, and these playoffs have been something of a coming-out party in that regard.

The Spurs offense is more multidimensional now. And Miami’s job will be more difficult than it was this time last year. 

Miami Heat’s Latest Finals Push Is All About Pride, Passion and History

MIAMI — What greeted Erik Spoelstra on Thursday wouldn’t be welcome in any other walk of life, but it was what he wanted to see. What he needed to see. What was absent at times in months that mattered less. What was essential to get to the month that matters most. 

“A very angry group,” the coach said.

What were they angry about? Too much to chronicle quickly.

They were angry about the peripheral stuff, for sure, the stuff they couldn’t control. Lance Stephenson’s buffoonery. The officials’ inconsistency. The Pacers‘ impropriety, their tendency during two years—and three postseasons—to talk much, much, much too much. 

They were angry most of all at themselves, for letting it get this far. 

“We knew we were better than this team,” Ray Allen said. “But we still had to play at our best. Everybody just focused in and wanted to beat them. Whether you could talk about any individual player’s antics out there on the floor… just dial in. Just dial in and stay focused. Don’t allow for it to get to the point where they have control of this game on our floor. Just take it away from them early and do it often.” 

Play their best, which is something they hadn’t done all that often this season.

Prove they’re better, which is something they’ve believed all along, no matter their seeding. 

“I believed, if we ever got a point where our whole team was able to be available for Spo and for all of us, that we could compete with anybody,” LeBron James said. “Never concerned about that.” 

 

 

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Heat 117, Pacers 92.

Heat four, Pacers two. 

Four straight NBA Finals, with that series to start on Thursday. 

This was their best.

This was why they’re better. 

This is where they can go, when they care.

“It was funny, talking to (Greg Oden) and Toney (Douglas), guys who haven’t been around,” Shane Battier said. “They were like, ‘Who are you guys? This is not a team I’ve seen all year.’ We said, hey, stay around long enough, stay around long enough, and you’ll see a different team. Trust me, we’re not bad. We’re not bad when we play hard. Really, that’s been the story of our team.” 

That’s a team the Pacers still can’t touch.

“I think it’s about not being able to reach their level,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Yet.” 

If “yets” and “ifs” and “buts” were nuts, then, well, they’d be Lance Stephenson. But they also feel stale at this stage, since Vogel’s team said many of those same things 360 days earlier, when it lost the second of three series to the Heat. That night, after getting routed by 23, the Pacers spoke of their promise. (“The great thing is we’re a young team and we are past the building stage,” Paul George said then. “This is really our first year tasting success. The rate we are going, we see championships soon.”) And they committed to capturing the top seed in the East, as a means of avoiding another elimination game on the road against a team they’d been built to beat.

They made it their mission to get Game 7 on their floor. 

But, first, because of a home loss in Game 2, they needed to survive Game 6 in South Florida. They needed to survive the switch. 

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Pacers led 9-2 early before the beating began, one that Ramsay Snow would have considered cruel. The Heat allowed just five points in the final eight minutes of the first quarter, while scoring 22. That was just a precursor to the pain to follow, with Miami outscoring the Pacers by an obscene 84-40 count from that inauspicious opening, and Vogel calling more timeouts than a kindergarten teacher.

Actually, he might have felt like one this season, dealing with bruised and inflated egos, and with fractures in the locker room that will likely become more apparent in the offseason x-ray.

But on this night, none of that was the primary problem.

Not Roy Hibbert‘s no-show, with just one field goal, and just four rebounds, his 10th playoff game with five or fewer of the latter. Not Stephenson’s silliness, which included cupping James’ chin (“uncalled for,” James said), flagrant fouling Norris Cole and confronting Chris Andersen, a series of antics that caused Udonis Haslem to threaten him from the bench, with James smartly holding Haslem back.

Not George’s tardiness, as the Pacers’ signature star followed up a 2-of-9 struggle in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals by scoring just one point in the first half, before tallying 28 more with the contest decided. Not David West, the Pacers’ rock, suddenly sailing passes out of bounds.

No, none of it.

The primary problem was in the home whites. The Pacers weren’t winning on this night, regardless. There was no way the bloodthirsty Heat would allow it. 

Not after they’d been roused. Roused by history, and the opportunity to reach a fourth straight NBA Finals, something no team since the 1987 Celtics of Parish-McHale-Bird-Ainge-Johnson had done. Roused by idiocy, the sort Stephenson had to spare, even Spoelstra wouldn’t identify that as inspiration.

“To even point out, to make a comment about that, then you’re just highlighting that guy,” Spoelstra said. “So he had nothing to do with our series, our success in this series, how LeBron showed up tonight. We’re playing for something much bigger than that guy.” 

They’re playing for themselves, for who they believe they are, and what they want to accomplish.

So, you could say that, after an uneven season, they were mostly roused by pride. Chris Bosh‘s pride not to allow Hibbert to dominate the paint the way he did last postseason: “I really took the personal challenge to do a better job.” And he did, not only defensively, but by breaking out offensively in the final three games, and throwing in a few fistpumps.

Chris Andersen’s pride to prove he could have, should have played in the past couple games, even with a bruised thigh; he provided nine points and 10 rebounds in 13 minutes on Friday. 

And then? 

“He got pretty angry with me in the fourth quarter for taking him out,” Spoelstra said. “Telling me I’m holding him back.”

Dwyane Wade‘s pride to push himself through a rigorous program, to prove that he is still a worthy championship sidekick. Shane Battier’s pride, and Ray Allen’s pride, and Rashard Lewis’ pride, to prove they still have something left to give. 

“There isn’t an article written about us that doesn’t mention our aging role players,” Battier said. 

James’ pride to keep working towards becoming the best there ever was. 

“We’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era,” Vogel said.

James smiled when told of that statement. 

 

 

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

“Me and D-Wade grew up watching the great Chicago Bulls team and the great Michael Jordan and the rest of those guys,” he said, after posting an efficient 25 points, plus six assists. “Any time I hear my name or our team in the same breath with legends and great teams and franchises, it’s so humbling, man. I really don’t know….”

And in the end, it really doesn’t matter if we know exactly what it was that got them so furious and focused—that got them to flip that switch, and turn out Indiana’s lights. 

All that matters is where the Heat ended up.

Again.

In the NBA Finals.

Where they always believed they’d be.