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Danny Ferry taking a leave of absence after Luol Deng 'African' comments

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Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operations Danny Ferry will take a leave of absence from the Hawks after audio of him calling free agent target Luol Deng "had a little African in him" surfaced.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Ferry will take a leave of absence from the Atlanta Hawks following the discovery of racially-charged comments made about perspective free agent Luol Deng during a private meeting with team officials in June, the team announced Friday.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said Ferry asked for the leave of absence. Coach Mike Budenholzer will take over the franchise's basketball operations.

When discussing a potential free agent deal with Deng, the Hawks' general manager and president of basketball operations said Deng has "a little African in him, not in a bad way, but he's a guy who would have a nice store out front, but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back." Ferry was reading from a scout's background report, but subsequent audio posted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows he did nothing to censor them on the conference call.

In a statement, Ferry said "no words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng." He added that he will go through sensitivity training during his absence.

"I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity and inclusion," he said.

Koonin also acknowledged the infighting between the members of the Atlantia Spirit Group, who owned the team until majority partner Bruce Levenson announced he was stepping down after racially-charged comments made in a 2012 email. Limited partner Michael Gearon Jr. initially sent an email expressing concern with Ferry's comments.

"While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners," Koonin said.

"That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again," he added. "We are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work. The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway."

Ferry's leave comes after previous declarations from Koonin that Ferry would not receive any further punishment after the team disciplined him in the wake of the incident. NBA commissioner Adam Silver agreed with Koonin that Ferry should keep his job.

Ferry's comments on Deng first became public on Monday night when WSB-TV in Atlanta unearthed a letter Hawks minority owner Michael Gearon sent to majority owner Donald Levenson asking for Ferry to resign. Gearon's letter also alleges that Ferry described Deng as a "a two-faced liar and cheat".

Ferry's comments set off an internal investigation that led to the uncovering of a racially-insensitive email sent by Levenson in 2012 describing the demographics of Atlanta's home attendance issues. After a meeting between NBA officials, Levenson agreed to sell his share of the franchise.

Ferry issued an apology after his comments about Deng became public, insisting he was paraphrasing conversations from numerous sources. The apology proved not to be enough before his leave of absence.

The 47-year-old Ferry was hired by the Hawks as general manager in 2012 after a five-year stint as GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a 13-year playing career in the NBA. Atlanta reached the playoffs and lost in the first round in each of Ferry's two seasons on the job.

Deng would go on to sign a three-year contract with Miami in the offseason.

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