It appeared Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, whose comments on a conference call with team owners led to the investigation that uncovered Bruce Levenson’s email, would escape this sordid saga mostly unscathed.
But with new information, the heat should turn up on Ferry.
Zach Klein of WSB-TV 2 obtained a letter sent by Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon to Levenson – read the full version here – that calls for Levenson, the team’s majority owner, to fire Ferry. Gearon also details the infamous conference call in which Ferry used a slur about Luol Deng, and Gearon’s version differed from the previously reported account.
A few excerpts from the two-page letter dated June 12:
During the call, which we recorded so that notes could be made for our partners unable to participate live, our GM Danny Ferry discussed player personnel issues at some length. With respect to one potential free agent, a highly-regarded African-American player and humanitarian, Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then on to describe his negatives, stating that “he has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out the back.” Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly, all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.
We were appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference cal. One of us can be heard on the tape reacting with astonishment.
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 layer) would have a field day with that fact.
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.
It’s not clear what Ferry was reading and what he said himself – and that matters, but only so much. Presumably, nobody forced him to read what was on the paper in front of him. And I have my doubts whether Ferry was actually reading from a scouting report, the excuse presented earlier in the day. Especially as the quote looks worse the more details added, it seems possible someone was trying to spin this.
If Gearon still has that recording and shares it, that could really turn public opinion against Ferry. Reading his offensive comments is bad enough, but audio and video carry more power. Just look at Donald Sterling and Ray Rice.
Beyond public opinion, opinion among Hawks owners might have already shifted with Levenson’s pending exit.
The Hawks have removed Levenson from their staff directory and now list Gearon atop the list of owners as “Managing Partner.” Does he have the juice to fire Ferry himself if he desires? If so, I can’t imagine why Gearon would have changed his mind between June 12 and now.