Report: Hawks Probe Sparked By GM Saying Luol Deng Has “African In Him”

The Atlanta Hawks’ problems extend beyond Bruce Levenson. According to a report, the event that sparked an investigation into Levenson’s bigoted e-mail was GM Danny Ferry saying free agent target Loul Deng has “some African in him.”

The incendiary news is courtesy of Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Ferry’s misguided description of Deng – a native of South Sudan – occurred on a call with other Atlanta upper-level executives.

The trigger of events that led to the toppling of Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson began with general manager Danny Ferry referring to free agent Luol Deng as still having “some African in him” on an organizational conference call, league sources with direct knowledge of the probe told Yahoo Sports.

“He’s still a young guy overall,” Ferry said, league sources with direct knowledge of the probe told Yahoo. “He’s a good guy overall. But he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way…”

The disparaging racial reference to Deng triggered at least one team owner on the call to pursue an independent investigation into how the organization operated in regard to race. The search uncovered the 2012 email that Levenson sent to Ferry and two minority owners that ultimately led to Levenson’s decision, under pressure, to sell his stake in the Hawks.

Ferry reached out to Deng and his agent recently to express remorse, and also apologized to Hawks coaches and players in a meeting on Sunday, Wojnarowski says. It’s also crucial to note that Ferry was reading from a prepared report on free agents when he voiced the offensive remark.

Atlanta CEO Steve Koonin told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Ferry has already been disciplined by the team and will likely receive no further punishment.

Ferry faces unannounced discipline from the Hawks for reading the comment, according to Koonin. It is not believed that Ferry will lose his general manager position as part of the discipline. Ferry will not face additional discipline from the NBA.

“I support Steve’s leadership and greatly appreciate his support,” Ferry told AJC Sunday. “I look to learn from this situation and help us become a better organization.”

Deng is considered one of the league’s most professional and charitable players. He won a sportsmanship award voted on by his peers in 2007 and was named the UN Refugee Agency’s Humanitarian of the Year in 2008. Deng was born in Wau, Sudan but moved to England as a child before immigrating to the United States at the age of 14. Like Ferry, he attended Duke University and played under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hawks pursued Deng as a free agent target this summer, but he never seriously considered joining the team. According to multiple reports, Atlanta’s offer to the two-time All-Star fell well short of the two-year, $20 million deal he signed with the Miami Heat.

Ferry, a well-respected and highly-regarded league executive for many years, has never been charged with intolerance or bigotry in the past. Given that track record and the fact that he was reading from a statement prepared by a third party, he deserves some leeway here. Ferry obviously isn’t Donald Sterling, and not even Levenson, either.

But any person – let alone one so educated and well-traveled – should be aware of the weight these remarks rightfully carry. Whether Ferry thought they were to be conveyed in a positive or negative light doesn’t matter, either – one’s nationality is irrelevant in the NBA workplace.

Let’s hope Ferry’s mistake was an honest oversight. Either way, each suspicion, allegation, or report of race-related issues within the league casts a shadow over an increasingly dark problem.

What do you think?

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