Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his controlling interest in the team, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Sunday.
In July, Levenson self-reported an email he wrote to the team's co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry in August 2012 that he called "inappropriate and offensive." The league commenced an independent investigation after being made aware of the comments.
Levenson writes in a statement that the racially offensive comments came as he pondered ways to bridge Atlanta's racial sports divide and increase fan attendance at Hawks' games.
"In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive," he said. "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," Levenson continued in the statement. "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."
Levenson notified Silver on Saturday night of his intentions to sell.
"I commend Mr. Levenson for self-reporting to the league office, for being fully cooperative with the league and its independent investigator, and for putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first," Silver said in a statement.
Levenson had presided over the Hawks' ownership group since 2004. Over the past decade, the team has never ranked higher than 18th in attendance and is largely overlooked in a market that also has the NFL, Major League Baseball and a passion for college football.
Atlanta CEO Steve Koonin will now oversee all team operations.
The Hawks become the third NBA team to hit the market this year. Milwaukee sold for $550 million while the Los Angeles Clippers were sold for an unprecedented $2 billion earlier this summer to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer after former owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the league after his racist rant to a woman became public.
In the email sent in August 2012, Levenson shared his observations of the fan experience at Hawks games. He said he concluded "southern whites'' were uncomfortable at games.
"My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,'' Levenson said in the email released Sunday by the Hawks.
"Please don't get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena 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.''
Levenson said Hawks crowds are 70 percent black, the team's cheerleaders are black and hip-hop music was played.
"Then I start looking around at other arenas,'' Levenson said. "It is completely different.''
Levenson said he often heard fans say the area around Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta is dangerous.
"This was just racist garbage,'' Levenson said. "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.''
Though he said he disagreed with the conclusion, he said he told team executives to add white cheerleaders and music "familiar to a 40-year-old white guy.''
Added Levenson in the email: "I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.''
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said the comments in Levenson's email were "reprehensible and offensive."
"The statements do not represent the city of Atlanta's history of diversity and inclusion, and we will be clear and deliberate in denouncing and repudiating them," Reed said. "I applaud the NBA's efforts to enforce a no-tolerance policy of discrimination. As a city, we will continue to stand behind the Atlanta Hawks organization as they work to find new ownership that reflects the values and ideals of a city that is too busy to hate."
The Rev. Al Sharpton released a statement Sunday encouraging Silver "to continue vetting all owners."
"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 said.
This is not Levenson's first effort to sell the team. In 2011, the Hawks' ownership group, headed by Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr., made an unsuccessful attempt to sell to California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo.
Meruelo was introduced as the new owner at a news conference, but the sale later fell through. Levenson then announced the team no longer was on the market.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.