There was an interesting moment in sports this week, one you may have missed, and it involved the Atlanta Hawks, the organization that continues to put its money where its basketball is.
The Hawks announced on Thursday they were refinancing a construction loan for the Emory Sports Medicine Complex utilizing a network of Black-owned banks. The Hawks said the $35 million loan is the first time a professional sports franchise has underwritten a significant loan using Black bank credit.
The National Black Bank Foundation, a newly formed group, helped create the deal. The Hawks say the main point of the transaction is that it’s a good financial arrangement.
“We’re getting a very attractive loan with very attractive terms that we’re proud to have,” Tony Ressler, the principal owner of the Hawks, said at a press conference, “and that’s the message that hopefully we can all make quite clear.”
But there’s more to this story than dollar signs and data. The larger picture is how the Hawks continue to be one of the most aggressively, and unabashedly, pro-Black franchises in all of American sports.
It’s not unfair to say few teams have done better understanding their place in the post-George Floyd universe, securing that place, and then expanding it, moment by moment, transaction by transaction.
“The way we try to run the Atlanta Hawks, we’re trying to win basketball games,” said Ressler. “So let there be no confusion, we’re trying to run a first-class organization. Eighty percent of NBA players are African American. We’re trying to do business with our community. We’re trying to be a force of good in the community. We’re trying to help Black economic empowerment in our community. We think that’s all good business.”
The Hawks have come a long way since former team general manager Danny Ferry made several racially ugly remarks in 2014. After that the Hawks made a deliberate pivot toward embracing Atlanta’s extensive Black community and civil rights history.
The list of things the Hawks have done to become a leading voice when it comes to race started even before the killing of Floyd. The franchise was among the first in pro sports to designate Juneteenth (which celebrates the end of slavery) as an official company holiday.
They were also the first NBA team to hire a diversity and inclusion officer.
After Floyd’s death on May 25, and then following the shooting in the back of an unarmed Black man named Rayshard Brooks by a white Atlanta police officer on June 12, coach Lloyd Pierce and Hawks players became protesting fixtures in Atlanta.
No one knows how good the Hawks will be on the court this season.
What we do know is how historic they continue to be off it.
Mike Freeman | USA TODAY