Hawks take pride in downtown Atlanta roots
By David Lee
On March 5, the Atlanta Hawks immortalized the greatest player in its franchise history and, in the opinion of many, one of the best to ever play the game, when the organization unveiled a statue in tribute to Dominique Wilkins. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Mayor Kasim Reed, City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, basketball Hall of Famers Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler, alongside many influential citizens and local dignitaries, made their way to downtown Atlanta for the event. It was one of the defining moments for a franchise that has existed since the beginning of the NBA — nearly 70 years.
The following night, in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,244, the Hawks defeated four-time MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-97. Six of our players scored in double figures and we overcame the efforts of an MVP candidate to win a game that the sporting world was watching.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend nearly 20 years in professional and international sports, much of that with the Hawks. I can honestly say that I can’t recall feeling prouder. It wasn’t just pride in our organization for putting on a fitting tribute to a local icon in Dominique or pride in Coach Bud and our team for winning against a very good playoff-bound team. It was the sense of community over those two days exhibited by fans, local media and key Atlanta leadership; a diverse community coming together to support a team that exemplifies the defining characteristics of the city it represents.
Steve Koonin, our new CEO, who spent his career leading two iconic Atlanta-based companies in Coca-Cola and Turner Entertainment, said something in initial meetings with our staff that has stuck with me: Few things can unite and inspire a city the way sports can. That has never been more evident than it has been this season.
Our attendance has increased by almost 3,000 fans per game, a league-best 17 percent more than last season. Hawks games are delivering historic ratings for SportSouth, up over 120 percent over the 2013-14 campaign.
This is a great story, but it’s not ours alone. We take pride in calling downtown Atlanta our home and being a significant part of its economy. We share a symbiotic relationship with our neighbors and local businesses. One recent television report stated that the success of the franchise has been vital to the downtown economy and bottom lines of local bars, restaurants, hotels, taxis and parking lots. Mayor Reed was quoted as saying the economic impact is well into the millions for the city. MARTA has seen ridership to Hawks games increase almost 200 percent this season. It’s phenomenal to witness these successes.
Beyond entertaining Atlanta, we believe basketball is one of the city’s great bridges for engaging and building community. Through our Atlanta Hawks Foundation, corporate social responsibility efforts and community basketball programs we are reaching thousands of Atlanta’s children and adults in an effort to make basketball more inclusive and accessible.
As the professional sports landscape evolves locally, we continue to take the highest pride in the roots we have in downtown Atlanta.
The recent additions of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights only reinvigorate our commitment and refresh the potential experiences for those making downtown a destination.
And we’re sure the towering 13.5-foot, 18,500-pound statue of Dominique Wilkins will be a can’t-miss destination, too!