Over the long week, I’ve written a time or two that I think it will be very hard for Danny Ferry to remain the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager. I now think he has given himself a fighting chance. Esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore’s unearthing of the “background report” on Luol Deng indicates that Ferry — as the Hawks have claimed all along and I frankly had doubted — was indeed reading the incendiary words.
And then, to cap another dizzying day, the Hawks announced that Ferry is taking a leave of absence.
The latter is a needed step backward that, for Ferry, could well become a step forward. The Hawks’ crisis-management team, if indeed there is one, had done him no favors. Until today, his only public comment had been a statement released at 7:07 a.m. Tuesday. We needed to hear more from him sooner, and my guess is that Ferry finally realized that he’d been poorly served by hewing to in-house advice.
According to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, Ferry requested “an indefinite leave of absence.” That took guts on Ferry’s part, but it’s the right thing to do. It gives this overheated matter time to cool, and it will give him time to try to mend the fences that need mending. If this job is to be saved, this is the way it’s going to happen.
Back to the background report: It’s no small thing. I was dubious that a document including the words “He’s got some African in him” existed in precisely that form, for the simple reason that I couldn’t believe anyone in the post-Sterling NBA would write such a sentence. I stand corrected.
For Ferry, who spoke/read those words on the infamous June conference call, publication of the background report marked the second bit of good news he’d received since this latest Hawks kerfuffle began Sunday. The first was when NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that he didn’t believe Ferry should be fired.
I’ve since been told that only two bodies — the NBA and the investigators from the law firm of Alston & Bird, whom the Hawks had hired, possessed all the documentation in this case. It stands to reason that Silver knew such a background report existed before he addressed the issue. Why the rest of us had to wait so long to see it will go down as yet another failure of Hawks PR. But now it’s out, and it makes some difference.
Ferry still should have known better than to have read such sentiments — apparently they came from someone who’d worked with Deng as a Cleveland Cavalier — in a business setting, but they were on paper. (Even the regrettable part about the “store front (with) the black market section in the back.”) That might not be an excuse, but it is a bit of an explanation.
Until the report came to light, the strongest pieces of documentation that existed were the partial transcript of the call, which emerged Wednesday, and the audio tape, which Vivlamore obtained Thursday. Neither seemed to favor Ferry. Hearing the tape, I didn’t believe it sounded as if he was reading. Turned out he was reading almost verbatim. (Yes, I was wrong. I often am.)
Immediately after hearing the tape Thursday, I wrote that, for Ferry, “I see no way back from this.” I continue to believe that it will be hard for him to keep his job. But I readily concede that the first two strides on that road back have been taken.
The background report will make us reassess, and Ferry has given himself the chance to make us believe. At this late date, he couldn’t have asked for more.