(Reuters) - The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks said on Tuesday they would discipline general manager Danny Ferry for making racially charged remarks, the latest incident that has raised concerns about racial attitudes in the franchise’s front office.
The team did not reveal what steps it was taking, but Ferry, a former NBA player who has been the Hawks’ general manager since 2012, said he had no plans to resign. Ferry defended himself in a statement on Tuesday, saying he was simply repeating words used in the team’s scouting reports.
The incident was the second of its kind involving the Hawks this week. When the team launched the probe into Ferry’s remarks, it also uncovered an email written by majority owner Bruce Levenson that discussed the lack of white fans at the team’s home arena, Philips Arena.
In disclosing on Sunday what he acknowledged was a racially insensitive email, Levenson said he would sell his controlling interest in the Hawks.
Levenson’s announcement to sell the team came about four months after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league and fined him $2.5 million for making racist remarks. The Clippers were subsequently sold to former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer for an NBA record $2 billion.
The Hawks launched the probe of Ferry after a June conference call in which he said a potential free agent, Luol Deng, “has a little African in him,” according to Hawks’ co-owner Michael Gearon Jr., who said he recorded the conversation.
“Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,” Ferry said during the call in reference to Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan.
Deng issued a statement late Tuesday saying he’s “proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just ‘a little.’”
“For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength,” he said. “Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can do no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage.
“Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.”
Gearon included the quotes in a letter to Levenson that called for Ferry’s resignation. “If Ferry’s comments are ever made public, and it’s a safe bet to say they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise,” Gearon said in the letter.
During the conference call, Ferry described Deng, a 10-year NBA veteran who played last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and has now signed with the Miami Heat, as “a two-faced liar and cheat.”
Ferry said in his statement: “In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players.”
“Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it.”
Even so, Ferry apologized for his remarks during the conference call and said he “reached out” to Deng on Monday.
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said it was time for Ferry to look for another job.
“Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry should step down after making racist statements about NBA player Luol Deng,” he said in a tweet.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh