The NBA's Atlanta Hawks has announced an ambitious commitment to the economic development of local Black communities to assist Black entrepreneurs, bolster Black-owned businesses, and bring community organizations to the fold.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hawks owner Tony Ressler, a 61-year-old billionaire venture capitalist, is committing to a long-term investment of nearly $40 million to empower the local Black community.

Ressler’s family foundation is donating $5 million to the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, another $10 million over the next 10 years to the NBA Foundation that works to create positive change locally, $11 million to the franchise’s diversity and inclusion division, and an increase of at least $14 million to community organizations.

The RCIE works as an economic agent of change and has created 2,000 jobs and 250 startup companies in Atlanta, one of the lowest ranking cities for economic mobility for Black people, according to The Journal-Constitution. It also partners with 700 businesses to help them add up to 10 additional employees with plans to increase wealth in local Black households by $70 million over the next five years.

“Located in the heart of Atlanta and founded by one of Atlanta’s most successful, entrepreneurial families, RCIE is one of the most innovative organizations that is providing real solutions for Atlanta’s Black community,” Ressler said. “Jami and I take our responsibility as owners of a professional sport franchise in the great city of Atlanta very seriously, and with that responsibility is a commitment to devote resources to organizations that are making tangible, impactful change.”

H. Jerome Russell, President of H. J. Russell & Company and Chairman of RCIE, said building pathways to more equitable financial opportunities in the Black community is more critical now than ever.

“We are bringing a relationship that incubated 50 years ago with my father Herman J. Russell, as an initial owner of the Atlanta Hawks, to a progressive platform, where the relationship between the Hawks’ current principal owners and Atlanta’s leading Black business and civic family will help amplify, advocate and activate Black economic empowerment,” Russell said in a press release. 

Ressler, a financial investor of more than 35 years, acknowledged that entrepreneurs and business owners from communities of color are at a disadvantage because they often lack the network and connections to establish themselves.

“Many of these young entrepreneurs didn’t grow up with the network of Wall Street contacts, of banking contacts, of venture-capital contacts, of private-equity contacts,” he said. “It doesn’t make it a lesser business, it makes the business less connected maybe, but not less valuable.”

Officials at the Russell Center think Ressler’s investment model is the type of capacity-building initiative that could be implemented or adopted across cities and among several teams in the country, if it yields the results they predict.

“For Tony’s gift over five years, it’s just like basketball, you’ve got to have the right team on the court to win,” Russell Center president Jay Bailey said. “And this kind of gift allows us to look at a five-year runway to make sure that we have the staff, the mentors, the support in place, for companies to take the journey from where they are to where they want to be.”

For the sports team owner, the importance of supporting Black businesses boils down to numbers game.

“If you help tens or hundreds of businesses, you’re helping hundreds of thousands if not millions of employees of those businesses,” Ressler said.

Hawks players are also standing with Ressler to offer their financial support to the city. In January, star guard Trey Young partnered with a local nonprofit to clear more than $1 million in medical debt for local families, as Blavity previously reported. Young donated $10,000 through his charity and sent personal letters to the participating families. Last year, the former Oklahoma basketball star gave $25,000 for Hurricane Dorian relief work.