This is not a surprise.
In the wake of the swirling controversy surrounding Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry — who said on a conference call with some of the team’s ownership that free agent Luol Deng had “some African in him” and would be two-faced — he has decided to take an indefinite leave of absence. This starts immediately and coach Mike Budenholzer will take over as the head of basketball operations.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin released this statement:
“This afternoon, Danny Ferry requested, and I have approved, taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family and it is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing. As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.
“While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners. That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again, we are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work. The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway.
“Effective immediately, our Head Coach, Mike Budenholzer, will assume oversight of the basketball operations department. He will report directly to me.”
The ownership infighting he refers to points back to minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr. It was Gearon who sent a letter asking that Ferry be fired for his comments and he (or those around him) are the likely the source of many of these leaks. Gearon used to have a lot more power in the organization, particularly on player/personnel issues, something Ferry and Levenson had blunted. It’s an open secret Gearon wanted Ferry out.
Ferry just made it much easier for Gearon with his comments.
Ferry also released a statement, which read in part:
“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.
Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them.”
This was a smart move by Ferry and the Hawks to try to diffuse the situation. Ferry had said he would not resign, and he will still fight for his job, but they needed to do something because pressure has been building.
Ferry has said he was reading a report — which it doesn’t sound like in the audio of the call however apparently the comments were generated first out of the Cavaliers front office — but that does not let Ferry off the hook. Part of his job as GM is to evaluate and filter information, that he read something verbatim that was clearly bigoted and passed that along in a conference call to ownership shows really questionable judgement.
Out of the internal investigation of what Ferry said a questionable 2012 email from majority owner Bruce Levenson was found where he talks about ways to make the Hawks game experience something white ticket buyers would want to come see. With that leaked Levenson has decided to sell his share of the team.
Which means Ferry’s ultimate fate is in the hands of whomever buys the Hawks. That person has to rebuild relationships in the Atlanta community and with African-American season ticket holders (plus make Atlanta a place free agents want to come). Can he really do that with Ferry still as a face of the organization? I don’t see how.