Luol Deng was the free-agent player being discussed in a Hawks’ owners call in June when a racist comment was read from a background report by general manager Danny Ferry, according to a person familiar with the situation.
According to a second person familar with the meeting, the following is what Ferry read: “He is still a young guy overall. He is a good guy overall. But he is not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”
Deng is a native of the current South Sudan. He is involved in several charites in Africa and has made trips overseas as part of the NBA program Basketball Without Borders. In April he was named the winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award given annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
Following the owners meeting a member of the Atlanta-based ownership raised a concern over the comment. That prompted an internal investigation conducted by council. The law firm of Alston and Bird spoke to 19 people and reviewed over 24,000 documents, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday. During the investigation, an email written by majority owner Bruce Levenson, directed to Ferry and fellow Washington D.C. based co-owners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman, that contained inflammatory remarks was discovered. After reporting the email to the NBA, Levenson announced Sunday that he would sell his share in the team because of the “inappropriate and offensive” internal email sent in 2012 regarding, in part, the lack of white fans at Philips Arena.
The Hawks pursued Deng in free agency. He ended up signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Heat in July.
One person with knowledge of the situation said that they had “never heard a comment as offensive” in referring to the background report on Deng.
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.”
Koonin said the Hawks were not in a position to discipline the author of the background report for the comment.
“It was not from our team,” Koonin said. “It was word of mouth. It was background information. Something was shared with Danny that was shared with the group.”