It was just five months ago when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life over racially derogatory comments recorded in private and imposing a $2.5 million fine and asking the other NBA owners to vote Sterling out his ownership interest in the Clippers.
Unfortunately, more racial comments have surfaced from another team in the National Basketball Association. It looks like a can of worms has been open and the raw truth of racial stereotyping, that seem to have been under wraps for some years now, is being exposed.
Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has taken an indefinite leave after the release of an audio recording of him reading a racist scouting report in June, the team announced Friday.
Ferry was on the phone with seven Hawks owners and was reading off a report about free agent Luol Deng, in which the information had been gathered through a network of scouts, officials, players, coaches and others around basketball. Apparently reading the report , Ferry said, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way. But he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell your counterfeit stuff out of the back.”
Deng, considered one of the highest-character players in the NBA, was born in the Sudan.
Ferry apologized for not proofreading and editing the report before reading it to the Hawks’ ownership group. Now it makes you wonder, if Ferry merely repeated it instead of editing it, where did the comment come from? Is there a network of scouts, officials, players, coaches and others around basketball who feel this way and write this type of background reports around the league or if this is just an isolated incident. Coach Mike Budenholzer took over the team’s basketball operations, and CEO Steve Koonin said the team is committed to hiring a chief diversity officer.
The disparaging racial reference to Deng triggered at least one team owner on the call to pursue an independent investigation into how the organization operated in regard to race. The search uncovered the 2012 email that Hawks owner Bruce Levenson sent to Ferry and two minority owners that used racial stereotypes describing his team’s fan base. That email ultimately led to Levenson’s decision, under pressure, to sell his stake in the Hawks.
It is very ironic that both Ferry and Deng played basketball at Duke University. Deng signed a free-agent deal with the Miami Heat this offseason. Atlanta hired Ferry as its general manager in 2012. He served as an assistant GM twice in San Antonio, and was the GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers for five years.
This latest issue leaves the door open for more NBA owners to be sanctioned or forced out of the league for past indiscretions. Unlike Levenson, the next owner may not agree to amicably walk away from the NBA and fight the league like Sterling did.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made a profound statement when Sterling was under fire for his racial comments that might have been a warning to other owners, it is now a slippery slope.