Magic Johnson thinks Danny Ferry should step down. Well, why shouldn’t he lose his job?
And how can NBA commissioner Adam Silver let Ferry skate with an undisclosed reprimand from the Atlanta Hawks, as though his big mistake was filing his expenses late?
Ferry is the Hawks’ general manager. Yahoo! Sports first reported that, in a conference call this summer, Ferry said free agent Luol Deng, a Sudan native, “has a little African in him.” WAGA in Atlanta posted a letter from minority owner Michael Gearon, quoting Ferry as adding: “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.”
We all say the wrong things sometimes, but that’s a whopper to drop in a conference call with your bosses. ESPN reported that Ferry said it “while reviewing a scouting report.” The implication is that Ferry was reading a report and didn’t really grasp how awful and stupid it was until later. Well, you can almost sort of see how that happens, I guess.
Who is the scout who wrote that report?
And why hasn’t he been fired?
If you read Ferry’s apology, you will notice: He never mentions any scouting report. He says he was “repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players.” Repeating comments is a lot different from reading a scouting report. It means if somebody did indeed tell Ferry this about Deng, then Ferry had time to process it. He decided it was valid and repeated it to his owners.
Ferry also wrote in his apology: “These words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it.”
Well, I can certainly appreciate that, since Ferry seems to be a bright and decent guy ...
He did use those words to describe the individual. Look at the quote again: Deng “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.”
Really? Do you think somebody wrote that Luol Deng “has a little African in him ... not in a bad way” in a scouting report?
And again: If somebody did write those words, who is he? And why hasn’t he been fired?
This had to come from somewhere, and the only evidence we have so far is that it came from Ferry. This was not a random, off-the-cuff comment at a party. Good general managers are usually very careful about how they discuss potential free agents with their owners. Teams do background checks on free agents every year. The checks are both formal and informal -- it’s an information business, and you call people you know, people you trust, to make sure you don’t throw $50 million at a guy who persuades his teammates to sell cocaine at halftime.
Deng has an outstanding reputation in the NBA. Chicago's Tom Thibodeau, the epitome of a no-nonsense coach, never wanted to take him off the floor, and was less than thrilled when the Bulls dealt the 29-year-old forward to Cleveland in January.
So I don’t think Ferry entered that conference call and thought, You know, our next three seasons may hinge on this call. I think I’m going to wing it. His job is to know exactly what he wanted to say.
The Hawks seem to hope this will blow over, and if it does, it’s because a) they’re the Hawks, not the Lakers or the Knicks, and b) owner Bruce Levenson has promised to sell the team, which is enough for most of the national media. At the moment, we’re mostly interested in two topics: Ray and Rice.
But Levenson’s transgressions were only tangentially related to Ferry’s. He wrote his own e-mail, which he described as “inappropriate and offensive,” about how to improve lagging ticket sales. Levenson made the mistake of thinking he had to pander to racists to sell tickets. Read his e-mail, and you can see why, in the wake of Donald Sterling’s exile, he will leave the NBA.
It’s no secret that the Hawks have one of the NBA’s most dysfunctional ownership situations, reminiscent of the “Secaucus Seven” who ran the New Jersey Nets in circles for many years. That probably contributed to Levenson’s downfall, and it may be protecting Ferry at the moment.
The team isn’t good enough to merit intense media scrutiny. The owners are so busy shuffling their own chairs that Ferry is surviving.
But it doesn’t change the facts of the case, and it doesn’t answer the questions about Ferry. Show us the scouting report. Name the scout. Danny Ferry made these comments. He owns them. If the Hawks won’t make him pay in a much more significant way, then Adam Silver should.