Critics Pick

Joeff Davis

Best job turning around a sports team

Steve Koonin

Prior to the 2014-15 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks were in a dire state of affairs. Then-co-owner Bruce Levenson’s old racist emails surfaced, prompting him to place the team up for sale, and general manager Danny Ferry’s racist remarks about NBA forward Luol Deng forced him into exile and ultimately cost him his job. Amid the firestorm, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin somehow navigated the franchise through a candid public apology tour, hired the NBA’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, and slowly built back trust within the organization. He even embraced the help of T.I. in team PSAs and stepped aside for a night to let 2 Chainz serve as CEO. As Koonin led the effort to mend the damage from the front-office scandal, something else happened: The Hawks started winning. And not just a few games. They won 60 games, becoming the first NBA team to ever go undefeated for an entire calendar month, and ended with the franchise’s best season record in its history. The Hawks, which were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals and then sold to new owners, have a promising future ahead, in no small part due to Koonin’s guidance.


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