Hawks CEO 'mortified' by owner's email
03:38 - Source: CNN AP

Story highlights

Hawks GM Danny Ferry allegedly described Luol Deng as a "two-faced liar and cheat"

"He has a little African in him," Ferry said, according to a letter from a team owner

Deng says he's disappointed and disturbed by the comments but proud of his heritage

Ferry says he was repeating comments from other sources that don't reflect his views

CNN  — 

Another top Atlanta Hawks official is facing accusations of racism just days after the team’s owner said he would sell his stake in the franchise after a racially charged email came to light.

A letter obtained by CNN affiliate WSB details comments Danny Ferry, the team’s general manager, allegedly made about player Luol Deng during a June conference call about free agents.

“Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then went 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 of the back,’ ” said the letter from J. Michael Gearon Jr., a minority owner of the Hawks.

The general manager also described the player “as a two-faced liar and cheat,” the letter says.

“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 call. … Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy,” Gearon wrote.

In the letter, Gearon called for Bruce Levenson, the team’s controlling owner, to ask for Ferry’s resignation and fire him if he refused.

Ferry, who remains the team’s general manager, apologized for the comments in a statement Tuesday, describing them as “insensitive remarks.”

“I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players. I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process,” he said in a statement released by the Hawks. “Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it.”

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told CNN that Ferry had been punished “in excess” for the comments but gave no details.

‘I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me’

Deng, now a forward for the Miami Heat, responded in a statement Tuesday.

“I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just ‘a little.’ For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength. Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage,” Deng said in a statement released by the Heat. “Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.”

Team officials discussing his free agency should have focused on his professionalism and athletic ability, Deng said.

“Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting,” he wrote.

“However, there is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren’t comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up. In the same way a generalization should not define a group of people, the attitude of a few should not define a whole organization or league.”

Comments sparked investigation

After the June conference call, the Hawks brought in an outside law firm to review the organization from top to bottom in an investigation that took two months.

That investigation turned up a racially charged e-mail Levenson wrote to Ferry in 2012, describing the troubles the franchise faced in attracting more affluent white season-ticket holders.

The e-mail bemoaned the high percentage of black cheerleaders and said that white fans may have been scared away by black fans.

“There were 19 people interviewed, 24,000 pieces of evidence looked at, and in that discovery – that internal investigation – this email that we released this morning was found, from Bruce Levenson,” Koonin told CNN’s Martin Savidge on Sunday night.

“Bruce was confronted with this email from 2012, and he decided that instead of fighting it … he thought it was best for the city, for the team, for his family, to walk away.”

The reported remarks from Ferry sparked widespread backlash on Twitter, including criticism from NBA great Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

“Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry should step down after making racist statements about NBA player Luol Deng,” Johnson said in a Twitter post Tuesday.

“The city of Atlanta and the Hawks fans deserve and should demand better from the Hawks leadership.

CNN’s Kevin Dotson, Jillian Martin, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Holly Yan and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.