ATLANTA – Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence Friday, making the move under fire for his racially charged comments about a player.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has resisted calls for Ferry to be dismissed, but said the 47-year-old GM asked for the leave.
“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,” Koonin said in a statement.
Ferry issued his own statement, saying he plans to undergo sensitivity training and meet with local leaders. He gave no indication that he plans to step down.
“My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans,” he said.
Ferry made an inflammatory assessment of Luol Deng during a conference call with the Hawks’ ownership group in June as the team was pursuing the free agent. The GM described Deng as someone who “has a little African in him.”
“He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,” Ferry said on the call, which was recorded.
Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan, signed with the Miami Heat but didn’t know of Ferry’s comments until this week. Deng said he was proud of his African roots, while adding he was “saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.”
Koonin said Ferry was disciplined for his comments, but refused to disclose the punishment. Both Ferry and Koonin have said the GM was merely repeating statements made by others in scouting reports on Deng.
Former NBA great Magic Johnson is among those who have recommended that Ferry step down.
An internal investigation into Ferry’s comments uncovered an unrelated email sent two years ago by the team’s controlling owner, Bruce Levenson, who theorized black fans were keeping suburban white fans from attending games.
Levenson said he was embarrassed by what he called an ill-advised attempt to improve the team’s attendance and that he intends to sale his share of the Hawks.
The whole affair has been another embarrassment to the NBA, which only last month forced Donald Sterling into selling the Los Angeles Clippers after he was heard on secretly recorded conversations with his girlfriend asking that she not bring African-Americans to his games. Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers for a record $2 billion.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who quickly issued a lifetime ban against Sterling, said he supported Levenson’s decision to sell the Hawks but doesn’t think Ferry should lose his job.