Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says Racial Email Not Racist

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t say much, but when he does say something, it’s important to listen, even if you don’t agree with everything he says.

Consider this recollection from Giant Steps: The Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When he was 9-year-old he was enrolled in a predominately black Catholic school outside of Philadelphia in the 1950s:

“I got there and immediately found I could read better than anyone in the school. My father’s example and my mother’s training had made that come easy. I could pick up a book, read it out loud, pronounce the words with proper inflection and actually know what they meant. When the nuns found this out they paid me a lot of attention, once even asking me, a fourth grader, to read to the seventh grade. When the kids found this out I became a target…

“It was my first time away from home, my first experience in an all-black situation, and I found myself being punished for doing everything I’d ever been taught was right. I got all A’s and was hated for it; I spoke correctly and was called a punk. I had to learn a new language simply to be able to deal with the threats. I had good manners and was a good little boy and paid for it with my hide.”

 The point is, he is not afraid to criticize the black community when it’s needed. We can all take a lesson from him.

His latest entry into the racial fray is his response to comments made by Bruce Levenson in an email. Levenson is controlling owner of the Atlanta Hawks. In 2012, he sent an email that described the fan base of the Hawks. Here’s some of what he wrote (you can read the entire email here):

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.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba’s urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.

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.

As you can imagine, Levenson’s comments were considered to be racist. Every business looks at demographics to determine how they can increase sales and profits. Marketers describe how they can reach more women, men, homosexuals, the elderly, teenagers, NASCAR fans, southerners, etc. In fact, many commercials are designed specifically for black audiences. There’s even a network that is predominately black: Black Entertainment Network (BET).

Levenson didn’t write that he wanted fewer blacks to attend Hawks’ games; he wanted more whites which would mean more profitability for everyone involved, including the people who worked the game, which he had high praise for in his email.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar agrees that Levenson was being the consummate businessman:

“I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.

“Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?”

Exactly. Kareem’s entire article is worth reading, and should be taken note of. I found this line especially instructive in light of the fact that Levenson seems it’s necessary for him to sell his interest in the Hawks because of the email: Levenson’s “worst crime is misguided white guilt.”

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