The Atlanta Hawks have announced that the team has partnered with a syndicate of black-owned banks to refinance the construction loan for the Emory Sports Medicine Complex, the team’s official training and practice facility. The $35 million loan is the first time a professional sports franchise has had such a significant loan underwritten exclusively by black banks.
The National Black Bank Foundation, a new organization formed to raise awareness of and support black-owned banks, assembled the group that structured the deal. Georgia’s own Carver State Bank was the lead arranger in the syndicate, which also included Carver Federal Savings Bank, Citizens Savings Bank, Citizens Trust Bank, Commonwealth National Bank, Industrial Bank, Liberty Bank & Trust, M&F Bank and Optus Bank.
“My view is that we’re doing business with a group of banks that are both well-capitalized and running a strong business,” said Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler in a press event Thursday announcing the deal. “That’s what you’re looking for: banks that’ll be there through thick and thin.
“The Atlanta Hawks are trying to lead by example,” Ressler added. “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 [and] we’re trying to help black economic empowerment in our community. We think that’s all good business.”
Black-owned banks have traditionally served as a refuge for borrowers of color, who statistically face higher interest rates and are rejected for credit more often than the national average. As a result, last year 49 percent of black households were unbanked or underbanked compared to 15 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve. The Emory loan puts the Hawks in business with (and brings their much-needed capital to) 12 of what the FDIC says are just 18 remaining black-owned banks in the country.
Despite the Hawks paving the way for other sports franchises to support black economic empowerment, NFL player-turned-ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who is a member of the NBBF board, said he has not seen any momentum on the NFL’s side. “Many of the people that allow us to push the narrative and move the ball forward are getting what they want… and now that you see the games are being played, I can’t say the last time I’ve heard of [the league promoting] a social justice movement. We’ve moved on to breast cancer [and the general advocacy campaign] My Cause My Cleats,” the Super Bowl champion said at the press event.
Clark praised the Hawks’ historic deal. “This initiative by the Atlanta Hawks was needed,” he said. “It was needed to have more news and some actionable items taking place.”
The agreement is the latest in a series of moves the Hawks have made in their diversity and inclusion efforts. After committing a number of racial controversies in 2014, Atlanta became the first NBA team to hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer. They also were one of the first professional sports teams to designate Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of American slavery, as a permanent company holiday. And in October, the Ressler Gertz Family Foundation and the Hawks announced investments that totaled $40 million to boost economic empowerment in black communities in Atlanta.