It would be one thing — and not in any way a good thing, we stress — if the Atlanta Hawks’ latest howler could be written off as another in a series of missteps by an infamous band of owners. But, as esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore has reported, there’s more to this than one Bruce Levenson email. There’s also the Danny Ferry component.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin revealed to Vivlamore that Ferry, the general manager, used what Koonin described as an “offensive and racist” remark in the discussion of a free agent. (I can confirm that the player in question was Luol Deng.) According to Koonin, Ferry was reading from a background report. “Instead of editing it,” Koonin said, “he said the comment.”
Vivlamore reports that Ferry, speaking of Deng, read this aloud: “He’s 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.”
Koonin said that Ferry will be disciplined, though the Hawks haven’t disclosed the parameters of that discipline. But the greater punishment could be the damage inflicted on the franchise Ferry is trying to rebuild.
Levenson is selling his share of the team, which means he’s going back to D.C., presumably never to been seen in these parts again. Apparently Ferry will keep his job. If so, the Hawks will have put themselves in the position of having their basketball operations run by a man whom they themselves have found to have been, at least in one basketball-related instance, racially insensitive.
As is the case with most industries, the NBA is a gabby place. Within hours of TMZ’s posting of the Donald Sterling tapes, half the league — players, coaches, owners — were trading other Sterling horror stories. If you’re the Hawks and you’ve staked the future of your organization to Ferry’s credibility, how do you feel today? How confident are you that this GM can convince a big-ticket free agent to come play for his team?
Vivlamore writes that protests from others in the ownership group over Ferry’s comments prompted the in-house investigation that eventually brought Levenson’s 2012 email to light. In other words, this didn’t start with an owner who’s leaving. It started with the general manager on whom so much responsibility has been placed — and who remains in place.