Miami Heat’s Luol Deng forgives Atlanta Hawks for offensive comments

Luol Deng spent part of his busy summer watching his reputation and his homeland get smeared by the Atlanta Hawks, a team with whom he nearly signed, and that mess spilled into his first media day with the Heat.

But Deng is ready to end it. He has forgiven Hawks general manager Danny Ferry for making offensive comments besmirching his character and his native continent of Africa. Not only has Deng accepted Ferry’s apology, he is interested in working with him on a charity project.

“One of the hardest things to do as a human being, and something we should do more often, is forgive,” Deng said Friday in his first media appearance since signing with Miami in July. “I do forgive Danny. It’s not something I want to hold on to for the rest of my career or the rest of my life. I had a chance to speak to Danny and I really believe he’s sorry for what he said.

“The main focus should be how we move forward. What are we going to do about it? Everything happens for a reason. We could turn words that were used to describe me and describe where I came from and really turn it into something positive.”

Hawks executives condemned Ferry’s words, but noted that he was reading from a scouting report and those comments — which were leaked to the media through an audio recording of a conference call — do not reflect his viewpoints. He is on an indefinite leave of absence.

Ferry said several insulting things about Deng, including that he “has a little African in him,” and “He’s like a guy would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Deng responded with a passionate statement about how proud he is to be from Africa — South Sudan, specifically — and how disappointed he was to learn that such a stereotype factored into the Hawks’ evaluation of him.

“It became bigger than me,” he said. “To describe where I came from and my heritage, that’s when I knew I had to speak for everybody. I wasn’t just speaking for myself.”

Atlanta was one of several teams Deng, 29, considered before choosing Miami. He said he was close to signing with the Hawks and never got any indication they had reservations about him.

He is widely respected throughout the NBA for his game and his character. He does extensive charity work, received the league’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award last season and won the sportsmanship award in 2006-07.

He also is a two-time All-Star, one of the game’s top perimeter defenders and a reliable scorer.

“It’s probably not a surprise to anybody that we really sought after a player like Luol Deng with all the qualities that he brings,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And the qualities he embodies are very similar to the Heat code and the type of player we want here. It’s not a coincidence that we went after him. We feel very fortunate that we were able to get him this summer.”

Spoelstra’s respect for Deng stemmed from grueling postseason battles against Chicago, where Deng spent his first nine-and-a-half seasons.

Signing him to a two-year, $20 million contract was a huge lift for Miami in the wake of losing LeBron James over the summer. Two days after James announced he was returning to Cleveland, the Heat had a deal in place with Deng. Team president Pat Riley called it one of the most important free-agency acquisitions in franchise history.

No player in the league can replace James’ production at small forward, but Deng was a solid fallback option. He averaged 16 points and five rebounds per game last season and has uncommon versatility. He was an All-Star in 2012 and ’13 before injuries limited him last year.

“In this league, you rarely get a guy who goes hard at both ends of the floor,” Heat veteran Udonis Haslem said. “Obviously, we lost a great, great two-way player in LeBron, but we also brought in a pretty damn good two-way player in Luol.”