(Yes, I took off a week.  Hope you survived.  🙂  Readers: Please note the blog is constructed as a story. While not all chapters are linked, after reading a few recent entries, you might want to start at the beginning. More about the blog and about the author. )

Scene: Jordan’s office.  Makes phone call.

Jordan:  “Greenie, I need some advice.”

010414_1635_16StudentsL2.jpg Greenie:  “About what?”

Jordan:  “Either I am living in a bubble or being politically correct has overtaken the United States.   Can’t we discuss facts anymore?”

Greenie:  “What are you talking about?  What’s the issue?”

Jordan:  “The principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks is being forced to sell his stake.”

Greenie:  “Why are you asking me?  And are the Atlanta Hawks some kind of sports team?”

Jordan: “Yes, the Hawks are a sports team.  Professional basketball.”

ATL Hawks LogoGreenie: “Jordan, are you OK?  I know absolutely nothing about professional basketball.”

Jordan: “But you have a lot of experience being involved with social issues.  That’s why I called.”

Greenie: “Alright.  I appreciate your confidence.  So why did this guy have to sell?”

Jordan:  “Because of alleged racist remarks.  The NBA…Natiuonal Basketball Association…implemented the ‘must-sell’ policy after the incident with Donald Sterling.   You know the LA Lakers guy.”

Greenie: “I remember reading about that Sterling guy.  So now if an owner says something racist, he has to sell?”

Jordan:  “Yes.  My beef is not with the policy.   My beef is what the NBA calls racist remarks.”

Greenie:  “You’ve got to give me some details.   What did the guy say that was so bad?  What’s the owner’s name anyway?”

Jordan:  “Owner is Bill Levenson, I mean Bruce Levenson.   From everything I’ve read, the comments weren’t racist. ”

Greenie:  “That BNA or NBA, whatever it is, must think so.   What did he say?”

nba-logoJordan:  “According to the New York Times, Levenson wrote an email to a couple of other Hawk executives expressing concern the white fans were staying away, in part because of the high percentage of black fans.”

Greenie:  “Were the remarks disparaging in any way?”

Jordan:  “A bunch of people got all exorcised, which is no surprise.  But I’m trying to figure out what the real issue is.  The email asked for ideas how to increase the white fan base.”

Greenie:  “What prompted the email?”

Jordan:  “Poor fan attendance.   Hawks are near or at the bottom of the league in attendance per game.   Levenson’s concern was two-fold.   One, he thought southern whites were not comfortable around that many black fans. ”

Greenie:  “What else?”

Jordan:  “He also questioned whether enough affluent blacks would support the team to make up for white fans not attending and the lack of corporate sponsors.  Levenson thought corporations were reluctant to support the Hawks because of the high percentage of blacks attending.”

Greenie:  “OK, the questions aren’t pretty but seem fair.  What were the racist comments? ”

Jordan:  “That’s my question.   Levenson asks some legitimate business questions and is branded a racist.”

Greenie: “What about claiming white fans not comfortable around a lot of black fans?”

Jordan: “Well, OK.  What about it?  Probably true.

Greenie: “C’mon.”

Jordan: “No, you c’mon.  People know when they’re the minority and it creates some anxiety.  I think we all feel that way.  Sometimes more so than other times, but people know when they are in the minority.”

Greenie:  “OK, when do you feel uncomfortable?”

Jordan: “Just to make sure it’s not perceived as racist, I’ll tell you when.  And you’ll fit the same category.”

Greenie: “Then when?”

Jordan: “Do you think I feel comfortable in a crowd of born-again Christians?   Talk about feeling like a duck out of water.  But that’s no different from the born-again’s not feeling comfortable at a High Holy Day service.”

Greenie:  “I understand what you’re saying…and agree by the way.  Were the rest of Levenson’s comments similar?”

Jordan:  “I thought so, at least from what I’ve read.   Apparently the Hawks play rap music during the breaks.   I’m sure a lot of fans might ask, ‘Why am taking my time and paying my money to listen to rap music at a Hawk’s game?’   It’s a fair question.”

Greenie:  “Sounds as if the Hawks made an effort to attract a black fan base…and were successful.”

Jordan:  “Successful except for one thing…economics for the owners.”

Greenie: “Not enough people attending the Hawk’s games.”

Jordan:  “So an owner asks his staff about ideas to increase attendance.”

Greenie:  “Since blacks are filling the arena, he asks for ideas to increase white attendance.   Seems like a straight-forward business question to me.”

Jordan:  “But labeled as racist by the NBA.   Seems like the NBA is the one that’s racist.”

Greenie:  “There must be more to the story.”

Jordan:  “There’s a lot of lip-flapping and name calling.  But as far as real substance, and real racism, I’m not aware of it.”

Greenie:  “The action by the NBA is a true head scratcher.   Might even qualify as ‘stupid is as stupid does.’  Might set back race relations rather than help.”

Self-Destruct-ButtonJordan:  “I’m going to make a prediction. The NBA keeps acting like this and advertisers will stay away in droves.   Then, the NBA will self destruct.  Maybe not die but shrink dramatically.”

Greenie:  “I forget sometimes you used to control a very large advertising budget.”

Jordan:  “Most advertisers do not like controversy.”

Greenie:  “But aren’t sports important, especially to beer and automotive companies?”

Jordan:  “Absolutely.   But there are many venues other than the NBA.   If I were still on that side of the business, I’d redirect the advertising dollars.”

Greenie:  “That seems like a pretty bold move.”

Jordan:  “Bold or not the decision to redirect ad dollars seems rather straightforward.   When venues become unpredictable or create controversy, then advertisers move on.  Look how quickly top-line advertisers took on the NFL over lack of a clear policy on domestic violence.”

Greenie: “And the NFL is far more popular than the NBA.”

Jordan: “The Hawks chose to focus on a black audience.   And they have every right to do so.”

Greenie:  “And the plan was successful except…

Jordan:  “… Except white fans found the game unpleasant or uncomfortable and decided not to attend.”

Greenie:  “So the owner wants to consider a different strategy.”

Jordan:  “Then the NBA, in its infinite wisdom, brands the owner a racist and forces him to sell his share of the team.”

Greenie: “That doesn’t seem right.”

Jordan:  “I wonder what would happen if Michael Jordan had asked the same question about the fans at Charlotte Hornets’ games?”

Greenie:  “I don’t know the mix of fans at the Hornet’s games but my guess is the reaction of the NBA would have been much different.”

Jordan: “I agree.”

Greenie:  “Seems to me the NBA doesn’t get it.   I wish them good luck.”

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