The Atlanta Hawks have no current plans to further discipline general manager Danny Ferry past the internal punishment issued by team CEO Steve Koonin, according to a source involved in the process.
Koonin said Sunday night that the team had punished Ferry for remarks he made during a conference call with Hawks owner concerning free agent Luol Deng in June. Reading from a dossier concerning Deng, Ferry said that Deng “has some African in him, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.”
Subsequent to that disclosure, minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr., who had been on the conference call and taped it, said that Ferry continued the remark about Deng, adding that Deng was “like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Gearon says Ferry then described Deng, as Gearon recalled, “as a two-faced liar and a cheat.”
Gearon sent a copy of an e-mail he sent to co-owner Bruce Levenson soon after the meeting to a local Atlanta television station Monday night. In the e-mail, Gearon said he and other unnamed members of the ownership group were “appalled” at what they considered a racial slur, and consulted with an African-American former judge and an employment discrimination lawyer. Both the judge and the lawyer told Gearon that the team could be exposed to legal action or, at the least, would suffer greatly in the court of public opinion if Ferry’s remarks saw the light of day.
“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 wrote, adding that he believed the team’s diversity within the organization had regressed since Ferry took over.
That e-mail was what set off the team’s internal investigation into its practices, and which led to the subsequent discovery of an e-mail by Levenson two years ago in which Levenson decried the lack of affluent white fans attending Hawks games. That discovery led to Levenson’s announcement over the weekend that he would sell his share of the team. It is believed that Hawks partner Ed Peskowitz, Levenson’s longtime business associate, will also sell his share of the team.
The NBA has said that the Hawks “self-reported” the disclosures.
The source indicated that the Hawks’ punishment of Ferry was more than what was recommended by the investigative body that looked into the team’s business practices. The team has not disclosed its punishment of Ferry, who was hired two years ago by the Hawks.
Atlanta’s ownership structure has been contentious for years. Former co-owner Steve Belkin sued his ex-partners in 2005, after his objections to the trade that sent Boris Diaw to Phoenix for Joe Johnson went unheeded. In 2010, Gearon and Levenson bought out Belkins’s 30 percent share of the Hawks, the then-Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL and Philips Arena, where the Hawks play.
Ironically, according to the source, Ferry was a strong advocate of signing Deng, who would up signing a two-year deal with the Heat. “He wanted to pay him $40 million,” the source said. Lawyers conducting the investigation looked at more than 24,000 pieces of internal communications over the last few years. None of Ferry’s e-mails or other communications raised any red flags, according to the source.
Ferry was “cranky” on the call, the source indicated. “He was Danny,” the source said. But the team, at least for now, is continuing to stand by its beleaguered GM.
Ferry issued a statement late Monday in which he apologized for repeating the words in the dossier.
“I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process,” he said in the statement. “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.”
Deng has told associates that he is confused by the description of him in the report and wants to refrain from making any comments until he has a further understanding of what the report indicated.
Before being traded by the Bulls to the Cavaliers last winter, Deng had a reputation as one of the best teammates on the Chicago team. All-Star center Joakim Noah was visibly shaken when Deng was dealt. Deng and the Bulls could not agree on a contract extension figure, and Chicago subsequently dealt him for center Andrew Bynum in order to increase potential cap room this summer. Chicago wound up signing Lakers free agent big man Pau Gasol.