This was the first domino that has ended with Bruce Levenson selling his majority share of the Atlanta Hawks.
It was a conference call in June where owners were being informed of potential free agents the Hawks could chase this summer when team general manager Danny Ferry allegedly said this about Luol Deng, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
“He’s still a young guy overall,” Ferry said, league sources with direct knowledge of the probe told Yahoo. “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.”
That is just clearly, blatantly unacceptable. It should make you cringe.
Deng was born in what is now South Sudan where he was fortunate to get out during one civil war. He is almost universally seen around the league as one of the better, more high character guys out there — he has helped organize many humanitarian missions to his troubled native country, not to mention other parts of the continent and globe. The Hawks did meet with him but Deng chose to sign in Miami.
Ferry has apologized.
Ferry allegedly read that line straight from a scouting report, but that doesn’t really matter, it shouldn’t have been written in the first place and should have been edited long before it got to a meeting with owners. The scout that wrote it should be in trouble.
The comment made some of the owners on the conference call uncomfortable, particularly in a post Donald Sterling world where the NBA was going to have zero tolerance for race issues.
The owners called for and started an investigation on bigoted things in organizational correspondence — and remember that there has been a lot of infighting within the Atlanta Spirit ownership group for years. No punches were going to be pulled.
That investigation found the 2012 email Levenson had sent out that crudely and, in a rather oversimplified way, tried to say the Hawks needed to bring in more white fans and make the in arena experience less African-American. The email talked about black cheerleaders, music played at the games and other steps.
The league was informed of the email and on Sunday Levenson apologized and said he would sell his majority stake in the team. His phone has been ringing off the hook (he’s going to turn a big profit here).
Ferry is getting a fine for his comments according to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin but Ferry keeps his job. It was Ferry’s poor choice of words (or lack of editing) that was the first domino to fall.
But it will not be the last.