Danny Ferry allegedly called Bonzi Wells the n-word in 2002

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Danny Ferry, according to a Hawks owner who heard it directly, said of Luol Deng “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.”

Yet, the Atlanta general manager has largely gotten the benefit of the doubt while Bruce Levenson is heading out the door.

The Hawks will punish Ferry internally, meaning we’ll never know whether he receives more than a slap on the wrist. The NBA doesn’t plan to punish him at all. He’s not resigning, and Adam Silver says he shouldn’t be fired.

But Ferry’s history with racism deserves closer scrutiny.

In 2002, the NBA suspended Bonzi Wells, a black player, one game for spitting in the face of Ferry, who then played for the Spurs. Wells often got himself into trouble, and this was just chalked up as another incident on his long rap sheet.

Specifically, this was another time Wells’ own racial comments led to an issue. Kerry Eggers of the PortlandTribune:

The most recent was during the game at San Antonio on Nov. 9 when Wells spit in Ferry’s face as the players walked to their respective benches during a fourth-quarter timeout. The NBA suspended him for a game because of the incident.

Ferry told teammates that Wells had taunted him in games dating to last season, using an expletive preceding the word ‘honkie’ multiple times. And there have been at least two other times when players accused him of using racial epithets to white players.

During an exhibition game in October, Golden State’s Troy Murphy said Wells repeatedly trash-talked him, using the word ‘cracker.’ Murphy, a second-year forward with the Warriors, said Wells leveled the insult at him several times.

And last April, after a Blazer game at Dallas, guard Nick Van Exel said Wells had scoffed at the Mavericks as ‘a bunch of soft-assed white boys.’ The comments, made public by Van Exel, created a stir in Dallas for a day or two, then drifted into oblivion.

But there was another side to the story (hat tip: Tom Ziller of SB Nation). Martin McNeil of The Sacramento Bee, via Can’t Stop The Bleeding:

Then there was an incident while with the Blazers when Wells spit on Ferry, now the Cleveland Cavaliers’ president of basketball operations.

Wells’ agent, William Phillips said part of that story always gets omitted.

“Ferry (allegedly) called him a (racist name),” Phillips said. “That part of it never gets reported. And Ferry becomes the president of basketball operations.

Ferry did not return a phone call to The Bee.

In light of current events, McNeil expanded:

If Wells called Ferry a racial slur, that was wrong. If Ferry called Wells a racial slur, that was wrong. Wells spitting in Ferry’s face was wrong.

None of those wrongs justify the others.

It’s too late to punish Ferry for his alleged comments in 2002, but the Hawks and NBA should consider them when determining his fate now. Was Ferry’s description of Deng out of character? Or was that a line Ferry is repeatedly willing to cross?

The answer to those questions should go a long way in determining whether he’s fit to continue running the Hawks.