Playing ball the Atlanta Way

Steve Koonin is CEO of the Atlanta Hawks.

Basketball is the ultimate team sport. But to the people of Atlanta, our organization hasn’t been a good teammate. We committed some fouls and our hand is raised to take responsibility.

Taking accountability and making changes is the right thing to do, but it’s not always easy. We want to do this the right way. While many outside the team asked for immediate meetings and public conversations, we believed we had to start internally. Before the media began covering our shortcomings, we hired Basic Diversity, the firm founded by Atlanta civil rights icon C.T. Vivian, to educate us and propose a path forward so that the mistakes we made in the recent past on issues of race will not be repeated. By the end of last week, every team executive will have completed intense diversity training, and we have committed to this training at all levels of the organization. The goal is clear: giving all our team members and fans in this richly diverse city the respect they deserve.

We have begun a second phase of our healing, which is to find ways to reconnect us with the City of Atlanta. We would like to thank Mayor Kasim Reed, community leaders and civil rights leaders who we have already spoken with and those we plan to speak with in the immediate future for their candor, concern and ideas. We have started this dialogue, one which we anticipate continuing, focused around two primary commitments: our focus on being a stronger organization and our focus on the community in which we play.

We will hire a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. We will work to build, under this person’s leadership, a diversity council that will represent the community and inform and guide us to ensure we do not again make the mistakes we made in the past.

On the second commitment, we will begin activating a community-centric program, Building Bridges through Basketball, which will continue to be fine-tuned and informed by our conversations with community leaders. One element will be removing economic barriers from fans who want to celebrate and enjoy games being played in Atlanta. The energy of a Hawks victory in Philips Arena is an experience that all Atlantans should be able to take part in. To begin to address this , we are immediately offering $15 tickets for 1,500 seats at every Hawks home game. In our view, games should be a celebration of not only the sport, but of bringing the community of Atlanta together. It is about people first, and profits second.

Working with community leaders, we intend to invest in basketball courts around the city. We will work with the mayor and other leaders to pick diverse and interested communities all around town in which to build these courts, where we hope many positive memories and basketball experiences will shape future Hawks fans and leaders of Atlanta.

We are pleased to officially announce that we will be permanently honoring our franchise’s greatest player: Dominique Wilkins. He was a star both on and off the court and we will soon honor him with a statue outside Phillips Arena. We see this as a living legacy – and a symbol of our re-commitment to excellence in the sport, engagement with our community, and a celebration for all of our fans.

We are moving forward, and we are doing so in the Atlanta Way. With a new owner in place, we will be stronger on the court and in the office. It is our pledge to work every day to make Atlantans proud.

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