(Reuters) - The owner of the Atlanta Hawks announced on Sunday he is selling his controlling interest in the National Basketball Association franchise in the wake of remarks he made that he says were racially insensitive.
Bruce Levenson said in a statement released by the team that fans have a right to be angry about an internal email he wrote two years ago about the need to boost attendance and how black and white fans differed in what they preferred to see at Hawks’ games.
"In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive," Levenson said in the statement.
"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)," he continued.
Levenson's announcement came a little more than four months after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in an unprecedented move, banned the-then Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league and fined him $2.5 million for making racist remarks.
Sterling had been heard, in taped private comments, imploring a female friend not to associate with black people. The Clippers saga finally ended last month when Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive officer of Microsoft, took over as the new owner after completing a $2 billion purchase of the franchise.
Levenson, in describing his own remarks, said his words were "inflammatory nonsense" that went against his public views on racism.
"By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans."
"I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true,” Levenson said. "That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA."
Steve Koonin, the Hawks’ CEO, will oversee team operations during the sale process, the team said.
"I'm truly embarrassed by my words in that e-mail, and I apologize to the members of the Hawks family and all of our fans," Levenson said.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Simao)