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Hawks discipline GM for offensive comments "far worse than Sterling's"

ATLANTA -- The fallout from racially charged comments by Atlanta Hawks' leadership continued on Tuesday as general manager Danny Ferry was disciplined for making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has imposed undisclosed discipline on Ferry for comments the GM made to the ownership group in June when the team pursued Deng as a free agent.

Atlanta media outlets obtained a letter Monday night from Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. which cites Ferry telling the ownership group that Deng "has a little African in him."

Deng was born in Sudan but was raised in England. The 10-year NBA veteran is now a British citizen and played for England in the 2012 Olympics.

Deng, like Ferry, also played at Duke.

Luol Deng shoots against Elton Brand
Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng (9) shoots against Philadelphia 76ers forward Elton Brand (42) during the fourth quarter of Game 5 in an NBA first-round playoff series, in Chicago, May 8, 2012. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Gearon's letter to co-owner Bruce Levenson said Ferry went on to say, "Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of 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."

In the letter, Gearon recommended that Ferry resign or be fired.

Gearon said he and the other co-owners "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 call."

Gearon declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Tuesday and Deng's agent, Ron Shade, could not be immediately reached.

Hawks spokesman Garin Narain said the team's investigation of Ferry's comments uncovered a racially inflammatory email written two years ago by Levenson. That discovery led to Levenson's announcement Sunday that he will sell his controlling share of the team.

Ferry apologized Tuesday but said he was only repeating comments he had heard about Deng.

"In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players," Ferry said in a statement released by the team.

"I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning."

In his letter to Levenson, Gearon compared Ferry's remarks to comments made by former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the team this year when his racist comments were disclosed.

"We believe these comments by Ferry were far worse than Sterling's because they were not from a private personal conversation - they were in a business environment on a business matter in front of a dozen or more people," Gearon wrote. "If Ferry would make such a slur in a semi-public forum, we can only imagine what he has said in smaller groups or to individuals."

Gearon also said in the letter that he wanted to point out Ferry's comments to Levenson because he wasn't sure Levenson was listening to the full conference call. Gearon said his belief, confirmed by his consultations with two attorneys, was the fallout from Ferry's comments could be "devastating."

Gearon warned Levenson he believed Ferry's comments "could be fatal to the franchise" if made public.

In his letter of apology, Ferry pledged he would learn from the incident.

"I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation," Ferry said. "I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward."


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