How the Atlanta Hawks Are Growing a Winning Fanbase Through Love

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Photo credit: Lauren Kania Photography

The Atlanta Hawks were the latest NBA team to celebrate the many shades of love with its Love Wins event on Valentine’s Day with a focus on the LGBTQ community.

While the team faced some challenges on social media, the Hawks’ Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw said the event was successful and the community has been generally positive with its reception.

Shaw believes sports organizations are primed to be drivers of social change, and events such as Love Wins helps continue the mission.

“We are uniquely positioned as a sports organization to create unifying moments,” she said. “We have a product that attracts different demographics of people to come to our building and celebrate with us. Our role as a sports organization is to be a bridge-builder, finding that connective tissue and bring it all together.”

Love Wins helped show Shaw the acceptance from many Hawks fans, and the organization’s potential paths to go in “new and unexpected places” to help unify the fanbase.

The execution of the game wasn’t difficult, Shaw said, explaining how the general programming is easy to implement in a normal night.

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In terms of scheduling, Shaw said Valentine’s Day just made the most sense for hosting a night all about the many ways love shows its colors.

“Overall, Valentine’s Day represents love,” she said. “Love shows up in all sorts of forms, and Valentine’s Day commemorates people giving positive vibes and energy to one another in however it appears.”

The night started with the national anthem sung by the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, and featured halftime performances by Robin S and Crystal Waters, as well as Atlanta drag entertainers.

Former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter attended the Love Wins event to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary.

“Hawks Games at State Farm Arena embody an inclusive environment that welcomes everyone in the name of love,” Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said.

Shaw began her role with the Hawks in 2014 and has since led a variety of endeavors to promote inclusion.

In October, the Hawks partnered with the apparel brand Boy Meets Girl for a PRIDE line, with several clothing pieces, including rainbow-numbered jerseys.

Shaw has also hosted the MOSAIC (Model of Shaping Atlanta through Inclusive Conversations) Diversity & Inclusion Symposium over the past four years. Also, each of the past four years, the team has participated in the Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade. This year, the NBA awarded the franchise the Inclusion Leadership Award among all of its 30-member teams.

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Shaw is excited other NBA teams are also pushing inclusiveness, with five other teams employing people in similar roles as her. Other teams hosted Love Win-type events prior to the Hawks as well, including the Brooklyn Nets.

She’s also noticed the broader efforts of teams and leagues across the country making similar pushes.

For the slight pushback the team sees for its efforts of inclusion, Shaw said she doesn’t let the negativity win or let it cloud the vision for the future. If she witnesses coworkers upset by the negativity, she reminds them of the struggles of integration.

“Fifty years ago, people were outwardly upset about the idea of black and white children going to school and playing together,” she said. “Sometimes implementing change feels hard for the broad community to accept, but over time through education and communication, things dissipate.”