Hawks co-owner Grant Hill: Racial healing in Atlanta has started

ATLANTA -- As one of the new faces in the Atlanta Hawks' ownership group, Grant Hill said Thursday he feels a mandate to "do something amazing" for the city.

Given the circumstances that led to the sale of the team, Hill knows that means more than just trying to bring a championship to Atlanta.

One year ago, the Hawks were reeling from racially charged comments made public from former owner Bruce Levenson and former general manager Danny Ferry. A group headed by Antony Ressler signed off on an agreement in April to purchase the team for $850 million.

Efforts to repair damage caused by the inflammatory comments included the Hawks' inaugural diversity symposium on Thursday. Among the speakers were Hill, a seven-time NBA All-Star, and his mother, Janet Hill.

"Because of this city, because of what happened, we have an opportunity to do something amazing and that's what excites me," Grant Hill said. "Don't get me wrong. We want to win ... but the chance to make an impact on this city, that's what excites me."

Hill was upbeat but realistic about progress made thus far.

"We've made a lot of inroads," he said before adding, "Scars take time to heal."

The scars were still evident early in the symposium after a speech by author and activist Kevin Powell. An elderly man in the audience stood and said Hawks CEO Steve Koonin was "not repentant" and the Hawks "don't have good intentions."

Defense of the new ownership and management team came from Powell and Nzinga Shaw, hired by the Hawks as the NBA's first diversity and inclusion officer.

"We don't want to hide from the past but what we really need to concentrate on is moving forward," Shaw said.

Added Powell: "Let us not blame the Atlanta Hawks. They are doing what they are supposed to do to address this thing the best they can."

Powell and Shaw drew strong responses from the crowd of about 175 at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Later Koonin said the exchange was "a good milepost for us to see it wasn't us against them."

"It was the room saying, 'Hey, give us a chance and maybe something good will come from today,'" Koonin said. "I really appreciate that."

Hill said he wasn't sure his generation of NBA players was as socially active as today's players. He said he has a chance to make up for that lost opportunity in his new role as one of the Hawks' owners.

"I think we have as a franchise just a tremendous platform," Hill said. "We talk about it all the time. How will we be judged? How will we judge ourselves as owners?

"Obviously you want to win. Obviously you want to create a wonderful experience for your fans, for your community. We have a chance to be leaders here. We have a chance to enhance this city."

Hill said he was nervous to share a stage with his mother for the first time. Janet Hill drew gasps from the crowd when she said one of her roommates at Wellesley College "50 years ago" was Hillary Rodham, now Hillary Clinton and a top contender to win the Democratic Party's nomination to be president.

Janet Hill, now retired, owned a corporate consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and represented diversity the Hawks sought by including Spanx founder Sara Blakely in the ownership group.

Grant Hill's father is Calvin Hill, a former NFL running back.

As a player, Grant Hill was a three-time winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.

Now, as part of the Hawks ownership group, Hill has a new chance to make an impact.

"What we can do is try our best over time, and I think we can hopefully get to a point of healing," he said. "To expect it to happen in 18 months is a little foolish in a lot of respects."