The Atlanta Hawks front office meeting that prompted an internal investigation, which ultimately unearthed a racially charged email sent by team owner Bruce Levenson, focused on a player’s African roots.
Television channel WSB reported that it was Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon who called for an internal probe following a conference call in June about a player who the team was targeting in free agency. The call involved members of the team’s front office, including general manager Danny Ferry.
Gearon detailed what was said during the call in a two-page letter to Levenson that has been published in full by WSB.
During the call, which was 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 went 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 of 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.
He wrote that he was “appalled” and called on Levenson “to take swift and severe action against Ferry.” Gearon also noted that the meeting came less than two months after the NBA imposed a lifetime ban against former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who had been recorded making racist comments to his girlfriend.
“If Ferry’s comments are ever made public, and it’s a safe bet to say they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise,” Gearon wrote.
Multiple outlets have reported that the player described by Ferry was Luol Deng, a Sudanese-born NBA all-star who eventually signed with the Miami Heat this summer.
Following that June meeting, an investigation led by an Atlanta law firm turned up an email sent by Levenson to Ferry in 2012.
In the email, Levenson wrote that “southern whites simply were not comfortable” at Hawks home games.
Levenson said he then self-reported the email to the NBA in July, and on Sunday he sold the controlling interest of the team amid the fallout from his comments.
The team has said that it will discipline Ferry, who apologized for his remarks during the conference call.
“In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players,” Ferry said in a statement posted on the team’s website.