Hawks’ strange situation gets a little stranger

Over the weekend, news was made over how Atlanta Hawks co-owner, Bruce Levenson, was going to sell his share in the team over some reportedly racist emails he sent a few years ago. Considering the entire Donald Sterling situation of this past year, the report was certainly intriguing.

One of the emails, posted here by Deadspin, notes some racially-charged wording that led to Levenson being forced from the league, a departure which he apparently is cooperating with. The linked post above, written by Phil and Jeff, may lead you to think that the story ends there. But nope, it does not.

Later on Sunday, after the original Levenson news was released, Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave his support for Levenson, remarking in Time how he understands where the former Hawks owner was coming from in his emails in question. It is not every day that an ousted NBA team owner gets defended by someone of Kareem’s legacy.

Then, current (and probably soon-to-be former) Atlanta general manager Danny Ferry, in a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, was revealed to have made his own racially insensitive remarks as well. Reportedly, when conversing about possible free agent options for the Hawks, Ferry commented on current Heat forward Luol Deng’s African heritage.

From Wojnarowski on Yahoo! Sports: “He’s still a young guy overall,” Ferry said, league sources with direct knowledge of the probe told Yahoo. “He’s a good guy overall. But he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

The quote is actually much worse. Zach Klein of WSB-TV2 in Atlanta obtained a full memo from Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon to Levenson reporting on what Danny Ferry said. It is pretty disgraceful (h/t Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk):

During the call, which we recorded so that notes could be made for our partners unable to participate live, our GM Danny Ferry discussed player personnel issues at some length. With respect to one potential free agent, a highly-regarded African-American player and humanitarian, Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then on to describe his negatives, stating that “he has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out the back.” Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly, all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.

We were appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference cal. One of us can be heard on the tape reacting with astonishment.

The situation in Atlanta, now with a former owner forced selling of the Hawks and current GM, is going from a little weird to plain strange. It is showing the dark underbelly that still exists within our society and in NBA circles.

And remember, they are talking about the same Luol Deng who survived a genocide in Sudan, grew up in England and has won the Walter J. Kennedy Citizenship Award, doing whatever the Bulls asked him to do on the court to the detriment of his own health at times and going above and beyond off the court in the Chicago community and for refugees everywhere.

With the Clippers, it appeared that the only high-ranking member of the organization with notable racial prejudices was the owner, Sterling. However, with the Hawks, it appears to extend down from just the owner.

Now, is it naive to say that the Hawks and Clippers are certainly the only two NBA teams with partially racist, or at the very least ignorant, front office executives? Yes, for sure.

But, as of right now, they are the only two in the news about such improprieties. And with the Hawks, it is not just a stuck-in-the-past elderly owner with a long history of prejudice throughout his professional career.

It is the two most important people in the organization.

About Josh Burton

I'm a New York native who has been a Nets season ticket holder, in both New Jersey and now Brooklyn, since birth. Northwestern University (Medill School of Journalism) '18