Danny Ferry built the Atlanta Hawks, who host Game 2 of the first-round playoff series tonight against the Toronto Raptors. He acquired every player on the roster that won more games than any in franchise history. He hired Mike Budenholzer, who was named the NBA’s coach of the year yesterday.
But it has to be difficult for Ferry to bask in this rare glory for an organization that has not had much to celebrate since Dominique Wilkins was dunking on anyone in the vicinity. That was in the 1980s.
Ferry watches on TV with an upset stomach because he has been suspended by the team since it became public that he made comments deemed racist about forward Luol Deng of the Miami Heat. The erstwhile Hawks general manager, to recap, said as a criticism that Deng has “some African in him” and therefore couldn’t be trusted and that Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan, was the type of person who was capable of running a legitimate business upfront but could be “selling some counterfeit stuff” in the back.
On its face, they were ignorant remarks and, depending on your tolerance, racist. For sure, however, they were magnified by the timing.
Donald Sterling, who owned the Los Angeles Clippers, had just been exposed for racist comments, remarks that led to his eventual forced selling of the franchise.
Unarmed teenager Michael Brown had been shot by a Ferguson, Mo. police officer, touching off anger in the Black community that heated up racial strain across the country. And it was revealed that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, had sent out an e-mail that said Hawks games had too many Black fans and that they “scared away white fans;” too many Black cheerleaders; and not enough white fan participation, among other twisted views. (The team has been up for sale ever since.)
The climate was ripe for Ferry to be exiled.
Seven months later, the question is warranted: Has the punishment for Ferry fit the crime?
In the landscape of today, in Atlanta, Ferry got what he deserved. Even if he is not racist, if he is guilty only of gross insensitivity, he cannot run a sports franchise in today’s world being that silly.
It is a high price, yes, especially as the Hawks eye a championship. Based on this year’s results, he knows what he’s doing. But he cannot do it in Atlanta anymore.
The good news is that a job will open soon and Ferry will be tabbed for it. That’s a small consolation when he just arrived here three years ago with a wife and five children. But it’s part of the price for the magnitude of the error.
Ferry, according the The New York Times, has not been idle during his suspension. He’s met with faculty members at Spelman College and Morehouse College. In December, Ferry and his oldest daughter, Hannah, traveled to Senegal, where they were accompanied by Amadou Gallo Fall, an executive with N.B.A. Africa. Ferry was also a regular at high school and college basketball games over the winter.
Surely, while all those experience were meaningful, he would rather have been running the club be built.
“My advice to him has simply been ‘Danny, do what you need to do to clear your name because you don’t want to be labeled as being racist in your history,” Wayne Embry, 78, who was the NBA’s first Black general manager with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972, told the Times. “I’ve known racism. I’ve known it quite well. And I told Danny that this is all really a shame because we need more people like him in the league.”
Ferry has not uttered a word publicly since all this went down, on advice from counsel. It’s not certain if what he has to say would make a difference.