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NBA PM: Will the Hawks Fire Danny Ferry?

Hawks GM Danny Ferry was punished rather than fired for making racist comments, but could his days in Atlanta still be numbered?

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Will the Hawks Fire Danny Ferry?

The reports regarding Danny Ferry’s comments about Luol Deng just keep getting worse. On a conference call with Hawks executives and owners, Ferry reportedly described then-free-agent Deng in a disgustingly racist way that has many people outraged.

“He’s a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way,” Ferry said, according to reports. “He’s a guy who would have a nice store out front, but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Rather than stopping there, Ferry continued on the call, describing Deng as someone who was not to be trusted.

“For example, he can come out and be an unnamed source for a story and two days later come out and say, ‘That absolutely was not me. I can’t believe someone said that.’ But talking to reporters, you know they can [believe it],” Ferry said, according to transcripts obtained by Yahoo! Sports.

Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. can be heard on the recording of the call responding to Ferry’s comments by saying, “Oh my God, that comment sounds like [Donald] Sterling on TMZ,” according to Yahoo! Sports.

Ferry has stated that he was reading from a third-party scouting report that included the comments on 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 in a statement. “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.”

However, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports seems to refute Ferry in his latest article. Wojnarowski reports that “in the context of the transcripts, it appears that those had been Ferry’s own interjections on the call, somehow supporting the intel culled outside of the Hawks.”

With these words linked to Ferry going forward, it’s hard to imagine Ferry being able to keep his job. For the same reason that Sterling had to be removed from the Los Angeles Clippers, how could the Hawks go forward with Ferry at the helm? How would he able to recruit future African-American free agents and build relationships with his minority players? Many people around the NBA are asking these questions and wondering how Ferry could possibly continue in his role as GM in light of these comments.

Ferry already inspired an agitated response from Deng, who released a statement to express his displeasure with these racist comments.

“’HE HAS A LITTLE AFRICAN IN HIM.’ These words were recently used to describe me,” Deng said in a statement. “It would ordinarily make any African parent proud to hear their child recognized for their heritage. I’m 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. Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of 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.

“Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete. Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting. “However, there is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren’t comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up. In the same way a generalization should not define a group of people, the attitude of a few should not define a whole organization or league. Ultimately, I’m thankful to be with an organization that appreciates me for who I am and has gone out of its way to make me feel welcome.”

Gearon Jr. called for Ferry to resign or be terminated in an email to majority owner Bruce Levenson, which launched an investigation into the Hawks and led to Levenson selling the team based on unrelated racist remarks that he made in an email concerning how the team could get more white fans in their arena for games.

“We were appalled that anyone would make such a racist under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call,” Gearon Jr. wrote in his letter to Levenson, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore. “Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy. As a minority partner with no effective say in decision-making, we were somewhat at a loss what to do next. So we consulted this week with two attorneys, one a very-well known and highly respected African-American former judge in Atlanta, and the other a highly regarded employment discrimination lawyer. They confirmed our fears and then some. The former judge put it pretty succinctly, saying that any African-American who heard the comments would interpret them as meaning ‘all blacks are two faced liars and cheats.’

“Bruce, we are all too familiar with the current environment in the NBA and in the country generally from the fallout of Donald Sterling’s offensive comments. You have been on national television condemning Sterling and preaching zero tolerance of racial prejudice. We believe these comments by Ferry were far worse than Sterling’s because they were not from a private personal conversation – they were in a business environment on a business matter in front of a dozen or more people. If Ferry would make such a slur in a semi-public forum, we can only imagine what he has said in smaller groups or to individuals. We also note that the racial diversity of our management team has changed for the worse since Ferry took over. The media (and any savvy lawyer) would have a field day with that fact.

“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. All of our partners have worked and spent a lot of money not just to make the Hawks winners, but to make our city and region proud of the organization. As lifelong Atlantans with a public track record of diversity and inclusion, we are especially fearful of the unfair consequences when we eventually get thrown under the bus with Ferry. We are calling on you, as majority owner and NBA Governor, to take swift and severe action against Ferry. Our advisors tell us there is no other choice but to ask for Ferry’s resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment agreement.”

Atlanta civil rights leaders are also deeply offended. They had a scheduled meeting with Hawks CEO Steve Koonin for Wednesday, but it was postponed on Tuesday evening.

Instead of firing Ferry, Koonin imposed an undisclosed punishment on the general manager, which “far exceeded [the] advice” of the Atlanta law firm Alston and Bird that led to investigation of the Hawks. They went through 24,000 documents, conducted 19 interviews and read “every email Danny Ferry has ever sent as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks,” according to Koonin, per ESPN. Koonin said that no other racist remarks were found during the investigation.

However, once a new owner in place after Levenson’s sale, will they want to distance themselves from these racist remarks by firing Ferry? That’s what some people around the league expect to happen. Even though he hasn’t been fired yet, it’s possible that Ferry’s days in Atlanta are numbered.

Anthony Believes He Influenced James’ Return to Cavs

In an interview for Adweek’s annual Men’s Issue, former New York Giants star and current Good Morning America co-host Michael Strahan asked Carmelo Anthony if LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers influenced his decision to re-sign with the New York Knicks this offseason.

“Watching LeBron go back to Cleveland, did that affect your decision on staying in New York, and did you learn anything from watching LeBron go back home?” Strahan asked.

“No, honestly, I think it was the other way around,” Anthony responded. “I think he saw when I came back home to New York and saw the response and saw the reaction and saw how at peace I was when I came back home.

“I’m pretty sure he looked at that moment and saw that that was a very special moment, and he had the opportunity to go back home himself and regain that love with those fans, you know, who kind of disowned him a couple of years ago. Now he’s back home and he’s at peace now.”

Anthony signed a $129 million contract that will keep him in New York for the next five years.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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