Why ‘Southern whites’ I know pass on the Hawks

Let this be the last blanket statement made about race in Atlanta: You really shouldn’t make blanket statements about race in Atlanta.

Or anywhere else, probably. But race in Atlanta is back in the headlines, thanks to the careless words of the people who run the Atlanta Hawks.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Hawks. They are the NBA’s model franchise, if you seek a model of unfailing mediocrity. The team has had its highs and lows over the years, but the one thing you can absolutely count on the Hawks to do is revert to the mean.

This is a team that, since moving here from St. Louis in 1968, has never advanced to the conference finals. No Atlanta Hawk has ever won an MVP award; none has finished in the top 10 of the voting since Dominique Wilkins in 1993. The Hawks being the Hawks, they traded him away the very next season, while the team was in first place. They lost in the second round, again.

All of which is to say, Atlantans have never had any reason to love the Hawks the way those who run the team apparently think we should.

By now you’ve probably read about the speculation by the team’s soon-to-be-former majority owner, Bruce Levenson, as to why the Hawks couldn’t draw more fans — specifically, “Southern whites.” Among his theories: too many black cheerleaders, too many black couples on the big-screen “kiss cam,” too much black music.

I’m a “Southern white” myself, and a sports fan to boot. I have been to just one Hawks game in the past five years, which is one more than the number of times I’d pondered the issues Levenson raised. But now that he’s raised them, I have some thoughts.

First, it’s worth noting many of the people around here Levenson derided as racially motivated “Southern whites” are white but not raised in the South. (Maybe he thinks they skip Hawks games for the right reasons?)

Then there are those of us who are Southern and white, but also below a certain age and above a certain income level. There are lots of us, and we should be right in the Hawks’ wheelhouse. We grew up with a diverse group of friends, listened to a wide range of music, had posters of Dominique Wilkins on our walls and Air Jordans on our feet. Now many of us have kids, potential Hawks fans.

We frequently go downtown for sporting events. But it’s almost always baseball or football or college basketball; the Hawks aren’t on the radar. My friends actually make fun of me and another guy just for talking about who the Hawks might sign to become a team worth going to see in person. Or worth watching on TV, for that matter.

Their usual reason? “The Hawks will never be good.” And given the team’s history, it’s hard to argue.

Still, is there some number of people who think the way Levenson assumed? I can’t believe there isn’t. But are they numerous enough to explain the Hawks’ woeful attendance? I can’t believe they are.

The good thing about a team’s rotten history is that it can be changed, as the Braves and then the Falcons showed. The good thing about Levenson’s revelation is someone will get a chance to prove even the Hawks can do it.