02:04 - Source: CNN
Tape of Hawks GM's racial remarks

Story highlights

Hawks GM Danny Ferry vows, "I will find a way to make a positive difference"

Ferry requests and is granted a leave of absence, CEO says

He has been under fire for comments he made about player Luol Deng

CNN —  

Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is taking an indefinite leave of absence, the NBA team’s chief executive announced Friday, days after a report surfaced about controversial comments Ferry made about a free agent player.

Ferry made the remarks about Luol Deng during a June conference call about prospective players, according to a letter obtained by CNN affiliate WSB and audio of that call obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

J. Michael Gearon Jr., a minority owner of the Hawks, wrote the letter to team owner Bruce Levenson shortly after the conference call to complain about Ferry’s language.

In that letter, Gearon said Ferry – in addition to positive statements about Deng – described the now-Miami Heat forward as “a two-faced liar and cheat” who is “like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.’”

Gearon also stated that the Hawks GM said Deng “has a little African him.” This sentiment is reflected in the audio of the call posted to the AJC’s website, in which a man purported to be Ferry describes Deng as “a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him.” He says that Deng “was very worried about his bobblehead being the last one given away that year, or that there’s not enough stuff on him in the team store.”

Hawks general manager accused of racist comments

Ferry apologized for the comments in a statement Tuesday, describing them as “insensitive remarks.”

Then, Friday afternoon, he requested “an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said in a statement.

“It is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing,” Koonin said. “As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.”

Ferry released his own statement Friday, reiterating his apology to Deng and “all that I have offended.” He said “these were not my words” but “I deeply regret repeating them.” He did not address specifics of the conference call.

The former NBA player-turned-executive has said he was reading from scouting materials provided to him. CNN obtained a copy of such a scouting report on Friday. It contained elements of Ferry’s remarks on that June conference call, but it was not word-for-word of what he said.

In his latest statement, Ferry said he plans to meet with community leaders to “further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity and inclusion.”

“My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans,” said Ferry. “… I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”

Follows a report about other racially charged remarks

The WSB report came days after Levenson announced he would sell his stake in the franchise following the release of a racially charged email he wrote in 2012.

The email was found by an outside law firm brought in to review the Hawks franchise following Ferry’s comments in June. The comments had spurred concern within the organization, especially given the uproar over former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racial remarks.

In the email, which was sent to Ferry, Levenson described the franchise’s difficulties in attracting more affluent white season-ticket holders.

The email – one of 24,000 pieces of evidence looked at as part of the outside investigation, according to Koonin – bemoaned the high number of black cheerleaders and said that white fans may have been scared away by black fans.

Hawks owner to sell team after racially charged email

“Bruce was confronted with this email from 2012,” Koonin told CNN’s Martin Savidge, “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.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who brought the hammer down to force out Sterling as the Clippers owner, called Levenson’s 2012 email “entirely unacceptable” and commended Levenson for self-reporting to the league office. Silver said the league will work with the Hawks to determine the appropriate sale process for the team.

As to Ferry, the commissioner told USA Today this week that he didn’t believe the Hawks general manager should be fired for his June comments.

“Understanding … the fact that he was looking at the scouting report as a reference when he was making these remarks – … my opinion is that this is a team decision in terms of what the appropriate discipline is for their employee,” Silver told the newspaper. “But if I’m being asked my view, I’m saying that, based on what I know about the circumstances, I don’t think it’s a terminable offense.”

Not everyone agrees.

NBA great Earvin “Magic” Johnson, for example, tweeted Tuesday that Ferry should step down for his comments.

“The city of Atlanta and the Hawks fans deserve and should demand better from the Hawks leadership,” said Johnson, who had a significant, albeit indirect role in the Sterling saga and was among those who pushed hard for the then-Clippers owner’s ouster.

CNN’s Jill Martin contributed to this report.