Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry will be disciplined by the team for reading aloud at a June meeting a racist comment from a player’s background report.
A chain of events involviing Ferry led to Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson putting his controlling interest in the team up for sale, officials told ESPN.com.
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. According to ESPN sources, Ferry will remain the team’s general manager.
Miami Heat swingman Luol Deng was the free-agent player being discussed in a Hawks’ owners call in June when a racist comment was read from a background report by Ferry, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Deng ended up signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Heat in July.
Following that meeting, 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 over 24,000 documents, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told the newspaper Sunday night.
During the investigation, 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 was discovered.
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. Within the past week, ESPN sources said, the details of the email became known to several other owners and league officials as Silver discussed the league’s options.
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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