Hawks giving lessons in how not to contain fire

Raise your hand if you thought Bruce Levenson's exit was going to end the Hawks' problems. Anybody? (AJC photo)
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Raise your hand if you thought Bruce Levenson's exit was going to end the Hawks' problems. Anybody? (AJC photo)

This was earlier post before the announcement of Danny Ferry's leave of absence. For the updated post that include elements of this one, please click here or go to  http://jeffschultz.blog.ajc.com/2014/09/12/hawks-finally-get-honest-ferry-takes-leave/

Some day they are going to study this entire ugly chapter in Atlanta Hawks history in public relations schools. The professor will stand in front of the class, clear his throat, maybe take some Dramamine, and tell his students, “This is what a grease fire looks like.”

The Hawks’ situation isn’t getting better. It’s just getting more stupid.

The last chapter in, “How not to run a PR campaign and make yourself look believable” came Friday. Chris Vivlamore and WSB-TV's Zach Klein, obtained a copy of the script that Ferry purportedly read from when he gave the inflammatory, race-infused background report on Luol Deng in June.

There are two problems with the report:

-- It was leaked Friday, the day after Vivlamore obtained an audio copy of the conference call in which some/many/most would conclude Ferry, given his manner of speaking, was making some off-the-cuff remarks about Deng, not reading. Had this document come out before the audio recording -- as in, when the story first broke -- it would have been more believable.

-- That's not to state unequivocally that Ferry/Koonin/CIA operatives doctored the script to make it look like Ferry read it because, really, it doesn't matter. It still gets back to Ferry having processed some analysis by some unnamed scout -- who, by the way, still hasn't been publicly identified -- and not running it through a filter in his brain before he delivered it on a conference call with a dozen team owners and executives. Remember, this wasn't a case of two guys talking in a bar -- or, hypothetically speaking, even an owner talking to his mistress. This was a business meeting.

Ferry, to borrow from something that rolled by my Twitter feed Thursday, is using the "Ron Burgundy Defense." He'll read anything that's on the teleprompter.

Understand, there are no "good" and "bad" people in this situation. In this case, nobody is telling the absolute truth. Everybody has an agenda, and truth is not high up the list for anybody.

When the story first broke last Sunday that managing owner Bruce Levenson had written an inflammatory/race-infused email in 2012 and, because of this revelation, he was going to sell his share of the team, the collective response was, "Huh?"

The story led to more questions than answers. Some of us in the media immediately began to hear rumors about a parallel investigation involving Ferry.

Vivlamore and I spent the first half of the Falcons' opener against New Orleans in the Georgia Dome press box writing about Levenson and the Hawks. At one point, I made a friendly wager with Klein that Las Vegas had set the over/under at 4½ as to how many times this story would change before it's over.

Klein said he would take the over. He won. Quickly.

I don't know if the Levenson/Ferry/Koonin half of the fractured Hawks -- Michael Gearon Jr. leading the other half -- retained a public relations firm during this process. I'm sure they're at least listening to attorneys. Maybe Koonin is running the point. But they've botched this from day one.

The Levenson story was released on a Sunday on the first NFL weekend of the year.

Why? Did they have some misguided belief that the story would be buried? If so, that didn't work. Levenson's exit not only made the front page of the AJC, it made the front page of the Washington Post -- news, not sports.

The Hawks hoped the story would end there. They believed they could minimize the damage and the Ferry story might not get out. When it did, they believed they could control the narrative. They couldn't.

Ferry and Koonin couldn't control what the Gearon camp might leak out, just as Gearon couldn't control what the other side might do.

Too often, that's the way it works now: The head of a team or the person calling the shots finds a person in the media, preferably with a national platform, to slip a story to with the hopes that it will curry favor and make their side look good.

I've been in newspapers for 33 years, including 25 at the AJC. In that time, I've broken a number of stories and been beaten on some too. It's never fun as a competitive journalist to see another outlet with a story that you believe you should have had first. But there's really only three things that upset me: 1) When people lie; 2) When there's a clear lack of transparency; 3) When the people you cover not only evade and deny, whether for the record or on background, but when they then turnaround and give the story to somebody else.

Everybody involved in this mess has done all three.

It happens. That's the way the world works. But had the Hawks been more forthcoming from the outset about what was going on, instead of making it up as they went along, scrambling to put out fires that never had to start to begin with, things might not be as bad today.

Instead, their franchise, ownership, CEO and general manager are more damaged than ever. Ferry hasn't resigned. Koonin hasn't fired him.

My belief is it's going to be difficult to move forward with Ferry as the general manager. It's certainly going to be difficult to move forward with this ownership, especially given that one of the owners and alternate governor, Gearon, wants him out.

This isn't about Ferry, it's about the franchise. If you think the Luol Deng situation is uncomfortable, what's going to happen if nobody goes anywhere and Gearon and Ferry wind up on the same conference call again? Also, while Koonin would have us believe investors are lining up around the block, who in their right mind is going to want to buy into this situation without cleaning house?

It's still a mess. The script produced Friday changes nothing. It just keeps the grease fire going.