• Ferry took leave in August for ‘African' comment about player
  • Independent investigation says comment wasn't Ferry's

Danny Ferry stepped down as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, even after being partially cleared of wrongdoing for racially tinged comments that led to an indefinite leave of absence from the team.

Ferry took leave of the team in August after audio from a conference call was publicized in which he said All-Star Luol Deng had "some African in him." He claimed to have been reading off of a third-party scouting report, and an independent investigation commissioned by the team confirmed that the words weren’t his.

Steve Koonin, the Hawks’ chief executive officer, said Monday that Ferry deserves the credit for building the Atlanta team that went 60-22 this season, best in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference. He added that Ferry "is not a racist," and that the team’s recent change in ownership triggered the necessary personnel moves.

"Danny showed great leadership in stepping aside in the fall so the season could proceed with as few distractions as possible," Koonin said in a statement. "He has always put the team first despite the great personal difficulties he endured. Now that the team has identified new ownership, the resolution of Danny’s contract with existing ownership is appropriate."

Ferry’s leave of absence came five days after majority owner Bruce Levenson announced he would sell the NBA club following the disclosure of an “offensive” e-mail that included stereotyped assumptions about fans’ interests and beliefs based on race. In April, a group led by Ares Management LP’s billionaire co-founder Tony Ressler bought the team for $730 million.

The Hawks’ independent investigation into Ferry’s comments, conducted by Alston & Bird LLP, considered 19 witness interviews and more than 24,000 e-mails, including every one sent or received by Ferry as GM. It concluded that the offensive language was not Ferry’s, and that his behavior on the call showed no motivation by racial or ethnic animus.

"While the past year has been incredibly difficult and humbling, it is critical for me to clear my name and for people to realize that I have always built a culture of respect, diversity, and honesty,” Ferry said in the release. "As the Hawks move to a new chapter, I will continue to support the players and wish them the continued success that they and the fans of Atlanta deserve."

Atlanta was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals and Mike Budenholzer was named the NBA’s coach of the year. ESPN, which reported Ferry’s departure last week, said Budenholzer is also assuming the role of head of basketball operations, while assistant GM Wes Wilcox will take Ferry’s place.

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