September 12, 2014 / 9:29 PM / in 5 years

Hawks general manager takes leave of absence after making racial comments

(Reuters) - Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry, under fire for making racially charged remarks, has taken an indefinite leave of absence, the NBA team said on Friday.

Shaquille O'Neal (R) jokes with former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry during a news conference at the Cavaliers' practice facility in Independence, Ohio in this July 2, 2009, file photo.REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk/Files

Ferry’s move follows an announcement on Sunday by majority owner Bruce Levenson that he would sell his controlling interest because he had sent a racially insensitive email. The incidents have raised concerns about racial attitudes in the franchise’s front office.

Ferry’s leave takes effect immediately, Hawks Chief Executive Steve Koonin said.

“It is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing,” Koonin said in a statement.

Head Coach Mike Budenholzer will take charge of the team’s basketball operations, he said.

In a statement, Ferry apologized for his remarks about National Basketball Association player Luol Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan. He said he would use his leave to educate himself and others about race, diversity and inclusion.

Ferry, a former NBA player who became the Hawks’ general manager since 2012, has come under criticism for a June conference call in which he said Deng, then a free agent, “has a little African in him.”

“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,” said Ferry, who is white.

In his statement, Ferry said he was only repeating comments others had made about Deng and regretted doing so. Hawks’ co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said he recorded the conversation.

When the team launched an investigation into Ferry’s remarks, it also uncovered an email written by Levenson that discussed the lack of white fans at the team’s home arena.

Levenson on Sunday disclosed what he acknowledged was a racially insensitive email and said he would sell his controlling interest in the Hawks.

In April, 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.

Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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