The Heisenberg Rules: What HR Can Learn from Breaking Bad (#1 - Acknowledge High Performance)
NOTES ON CHANGE MANAGEMENT: Google's Biggest Competitor in Search is.....

LIVE CASE STUDY: NBA Exec Refers to Demographic as Angry and Argumentative

I'm historically an Atlanta Hawks fan (pro basketball).  And being a Hawks fan is...well...difficult some times. 

The Atlanta Hawks have a recent history that touches on numerous HR, organizational and talent issues.  This history resulted in the NBA franchise being sold to a new owner a couple of Wilcox
years ago, triggered by the racially charged events that basically go like this:

--A past General Manager for the Hawks (Danny Ferry) was reading a scouting report on an internal conference call on a potential free agent and ready aloud that the free agent in question, "had a little African in him", a reference apparently intended to conflate something about the free agent with African merchants who sell counterfeit goods.

--Minority partner/owner Michael Gearon Jr. taped the call, called for an internal investigation and wrote a letter pressuring majority owner Bruce Levenson “to ask for Ferry’s resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause.”

-Levenson announced his intention to sell his stake in the Hawks in September of 2014 following his realization that internal investigation would include the revelation of an email he’d written two years earlier to then-GM Ferry in which he theorized that “the black crowd [at Philips Arena] scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant [enough] season ticket base” to support the team.

That's a lot, right? if you're interested in the drama, go read this long form piece from ESPN that describes the dysfunction in the Hawks former ownership group.

In April of 2015, a group led by businessman Tony Ressler agreed to buy the franchise for $850 million. Two months later, following an internal investigation that “cleared Ferry of racial animus” in connection with his relating of the remarks in the Deng scouting report, the Hawks agreed to terms on a buyout of the final two years of his contract. He returned to the NBA this season as a special advisor for the New Orleans Pelicans, reporting to general manager Dell Demps, who is black.

Under the new ownership, the Hawks have done a pretty good job of connecting themselves to the entire Atlanta community and attempting to move past the past drama that was racially charged.  They've also patted themselves on the back a good bit for their progress, taking a few victory laps via interviews to talk about the differences between past management and current management.

That's what makes a recent revelation so interesting from an organizational perspective.  Wes Wilcox, Danny Ferry's replacement, recently opened mouth and inserted foot.  Observe and be amazed via Yahoo Sports:

"The joke in question came during a Dec. 7 “chalk talk” event during which a crowd of about 200 season-ticket holders and team “members” had the chance to ask Wilcox about a variety of topics related to the Hawks’ on-court product, according to Deadspin’s Patrick Redford, who has the scoop:

 Season ticket holder Clarenton Crawford, by his account, made his displeasure with coach Mike Budenholzer known, and offered to renew for two more seasons if the organization hired Mark Jackson instead. Another fan spoke about the need for a veteran point guard. And at one point, a member asked Wilcox why the Hawks’ best players were playing fewer minutes than they were at the start of the year. According to Crawford and another source who was present, Wilcox, who is white, tried to diffuse the tension with a joke:

 “I know you guys may be angry with me, but I’m used to it because I have a black wife and three mixed kids, so I’m used to people being angry and argumentative.

Crawford told Deadspin that he and his wife Deborah, who was also in attendance, were “livid” at Wilcox’s remarks, especially in the context of the Hawks’ recent past of racial turmoil.

I present this not to be PC, not to wag my finger and make more/less of this than it should be.  I'm literally just fascinated by how the organization handles this.

Your previous GM was white and read a racial comment off a scouting report during a private conference call.  He got caught up in a tidal wave of events and was labeled a racist, as is currently being rehabbed by a black executive in the industry who obviously didn't agree with the assessment of Ferry.

Your new GM? He's white and made a public comment in response to the anger of a black season ticket holder that alludes to the demographic in question as being angry and argumentative.

You can't make this stuff up.  What will the Hawks, who are generally pleased with themselves from a community/relationship perspective in the aftermath of the Ferry/Levinson situation, do with Wilcox? 

Early returns are they will do nothing.  Is that right or wrong?

I don't know, but I bet Danny Ferry wishes he got the grace of context, a review of his life's work and more when a minority owner decided to tape a conference call.


Matt Landrum

It feels like we ought to do better separating what's in a person's heart and the example of their lifetime from the 1-time foot-in-mouth problem. I know many high performers that are just not that great socially. Of course, this is the perspective of a white guy, so take it with a grain of salt.

Tough problem, especially if you are the leader of a huge franchise. I have no doubt we (humans) will work through it - 1 step back, 2 steps forward.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)