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Ferry apologizes for insensitive Deng comment

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Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry issued an apology for reading culturally insensitive remarks about Luol Deng in a June conference call.

Ferry, who said he was reading from the player’s background report, said this of Deng, a fellow Duke alumnus and native of Sudan: “he has a little African in him, not in a bad way, but he’s a guy who would have a nice store out front, but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Tuesday, Ferry released the apology after first trying to reach Deng.

“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,” Ferry said. “I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning.”

That was part of a chain of events that led to Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson putting his controlling interest in the team up for sale.

Levenson announced Sunday that he would sell his share in the team because of the “inappropriate and offensive” internal email sent in 2012 regarding the lack of white fans at Philips Arena.

The nature of the Ferry’s discipline was not disclosed by the team. While Levenson appears on the way out, Ferry will remain the team’s general manager.

Deng ended up signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Miami Heat in July.

A member of the Atlanta-based ownership raised a concern over the comment. That prompted an internal investigation conducted by council. The law firm of Alston and Bird spoke to 19 people and reviewed more than 24,000 documents, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday night.

The investigation discovered an email written by Levenson, directed to Ferry and fellow Washington D.C. based co-owners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman, that contained inflammatory remarks.

According to Koonin, in the meeting to discuss free agency, a player was being discussed and Ferry cited a background report that included an “offensive and racist” remark.

“Instead of editing it, he (Ferry) said the comment,” Koonin told the Journal-Constitution.

The meeting took place less than two months after NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers’ former owner, for life and started proceedings to force him to sell the team when racist comments he made became public. After a short court battle involving Sterling, his estranged wife Shelly and the league, the team was sold to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Levenson had been one of the most outspoken owners against Sterling’s actions.

After Levenson’s email was found, the Hawks informed the NBA, which launched its own investigation.

Although no punishment decision had been reached, Levenson chose to sell the team on his own, several sources told ESPN.

In the email, Levenson said he concluded that “southern whites” were uncomfortable at games.

“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” Levenson wrote.

“Please don’t get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena back then. I never felt uncomfortable, but I think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.”

Levenson wrote that the crowds at Hawks games are 70 percent black, too many of the team’s cheerleaders are black and too much hip-hop music is played.

“Then I start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different,” Levenson wrote.

Levenson also wrote that “I have even (complained) that the kiss cam is too black.”

The Hawks have made the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons, the longest current streak in the Eastern Conference and second-longest in the NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs’ 17.

The Hawks finished 28th in attendance last season.

The Hawks’ ownership group has a cluster of owners based in Atlanta and a cluster based in Washington, D.C., that includes Levenson. The group, which operates as Atlanta Spirit LLC, has been divided frequently since it bought the team in 2005.

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Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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