Two letters obtained by esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore tell us all we need to know about the exile and eventual ouster of Danny Ferry as the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager. The first is from Bernard Taylor of the law firm Alston and Bird and absolves Ferry of any “racial, ethnic, or country of origination bias or animus.”
The second is from Todd Foreman, one of the three Washington-based owners of the group that will, thankfully and finally, fade into memory when the sale of the Hawks becomes official Wednesday. Writes Foreman to Ferry: “At the heart of this dispute was the unfortunate disagreement amongst owners.”
Let’s be clear. Ferry did speak/read the unfortunate words about Luol Deng — “he’s got a little African in him” — on a June 2014 conference call with team owners. But what happened afterward proved even rich people aren’t above acting petty. Ferry provided a lever for the Atlanta-based owners (the Michael Gearons Jr. and Sr., plus Rutherford Seydel) to unseat a GM they didn’t like not least because they’d had no hand in his hiring.
Bruce Levenson, head of the D.C. crew, essentially hired Ferry. (Gearon Jr. was out of the country at the time.) Ferry, who rebuilt the Hawks so well and completely that they’d win a franchise-best 60 games, was held up as Levenson’s pride, and that nettled the Gearon crew.
It didn’t help that Ferry was dismissive of Dominique Wilkins, whom the Gearons love, and brusque toward Gearon Sr., himself the GM himself back in the ’70s. But as much as Gearon Jr. might try to characterize the in-house investigation as a function of his longstanding abhorrence of racism, we ask this: Had he been the man who’d hired Ferry, had the Gearons liked Ferry even a little, wouldn’t a quiet word have sufficed?
Instead this became, to use Foreman’s words, another “unfortunate disagreement amongst owners,” and this one spilled into the public domain and wound up toppling the best GM this franchise has ever seen — a GM who, not incidentally, its own investigation found not guilty of racism. The final act of this wretched ownership was to agree to buy out Ferry, and even that yielded no agreement. From Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN: “The franchise’s Atlanta-based partnership voted against the buyout deal, according to sources.”
Of course it did.