Danny Ferry's recent remarks have allowed us to look back at an alleged 2002 racial incident

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Danny Ferry's recent remarks have allowed us to look back at an alleged 2002 racial incident
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  • Danny Ferry
    American professional basketball player and general manager
  • Bonzi Wells
    Bonzi Wells
    American basketball player

It’s a rumor at worst and a distressing anecdote at best. Chatter started to swirl on Twitter on Wednesday about an alleged in-game remark former San Antonio Spurs forward Danny Ferry said to Portland Trail Blazers swingman Bonzi Wells in 2002, and by the time Thursday’s wayback machine got to churning, the story was back.

Former Sacramento Bee reporter Marty McNeal landed these tweets on Tuesday, which allowed others to start digging:

Here is McNeal’s report, not from 2002, but from a “why-Bonzi-Wells-might-be-misunderstood”-type piece penned during Bonzi’s last great season in 2006, via Can’t Stop the Bleeding:

Then there was an incident while with the Blazers when Wells spit on Ferry, now the Cleveland Cavaliers’ president of basketball operations.

Wells’ agent, William Phillips said part of that story always gets omitted.

“Ferry [allegedly] called him a [racist name],” Phillips said. “That part of it never gets reported. And Ferry becomes the president of basketball operations.

Ferry did not return a phone call to The Bee.

Dan Feldman at Pro Basketball Talk found this piece, from the Portland Tribune, detailing some of Wells’ finest work, which according to him led up to Ferry using that word:

The most recent was during the game at San Antonio on Nov. 9 when Wells spit in Ferry’s face as the players walked to their respective benches during a fourth-quarter timeout. The NBA suspended him for a game because of the incident.

Ferry told teammates that Wells had taunted him in games dating to last season, using an expletive preceding the word ‘honkie’ multiple times. And there have been at least two other times when players accused him of using racial epithets to white players.

During an exhibition game in October, Golden State’s Troy Murphy said Wells repeatedly trash-talked him, using the word ‘cracker.’ Murphy, a second-year forward with the Warriors, said Wells leveled the insult at him several times.

And last April, after a Blazer game at Dallas, guard Nick Van Exel said Wells had scoffed at the Mavericks as ‘a bunch of soft-assed white boys.’ The comments, made public by Van Exel, created a stir in Dallas for a day or two, then drifted into oblivion.

As many have noted, few gave much credibility to Wells’ assertion at the time because of the miserable attitude he consistently came through with during his up and down NBA career. There were several off-court incidents, several tussels at practice, he backed his way into several trades because his team’s front office was desperate to unload Bonzi’s attitude in exchange for lesser players, and there was also the time the Memphis Grizzlies basically excommunicated Wells while Bonzi should have been working in his prime.

Outside of some work overseas following his NBA career, the last I heard from Bonzi was when my brother told me he witnessed Wells angrily chucking a bag of golf clubs into a lake at a golf course in Muncie, Ind.

Now, everyone and their father have chucked a golf club in frustration at one point in their life, and that’s no reason to think that Wells is some sort of miserable, epithet-shouting racist. When you have three players, two white and one black, going on record to call Wells out for such things … it adds to the dubiousness of his claim regarding Ferry.

That all changed this week, when Ferry was revealed in reports to show a shocking lack of leadership and tact in his supposed “scouting” remarks about Luol Deng. That absence of character – whether it was a brief misstep or a direct view into Ferry’s lifetime’s worth of thinking about such matters – allowed us to wonder all over again if Bonzi Wells was telling the truth.

He probably wasn’t, though, and not because Bonzi Wells said some stupid stuff on the court a decade ago.

And not because we don’t realize that thinking like Ferry’s regarding Deng, when given the shield of an executive title and the ability to wield systematic influence, isn’t destructive and quite pervasive.

And not because we aren’t aware that even the most kind-minded of sorts, witness your boy Michael Richards, can’t absolutely lose their minds and intentionally say nasty things that are intended to harm when the temper flares.

The reason we don’t think Danny Ferry said that to Bonzi Wells, is because even a whispered n-word in the middle of an NBA game would result in the court figuratively tilting Ferry’s way, as players from both teams would learn immediately of the transgression, and react accordingly. Unless Ferry is sending that word Wells’ way in barely audible tones at midcourt, with eight other players and referees placed somewhere else, it just ain’t happening.

Danny Ferry, or any other white NBA player, could be using that term in regular rotation in just about every off-record conversation they have. If it slips in a game, though, people are going to find out. And the fallout would be swift and immediate. It wouldn’t come in a Sacramento Bee feature from four years later.

Racism still exists, and it still boasts terrifying tentacles that will take centuries to try and lop off. Awful white dudes with mainstream jobs and seemingly normal living arrangements, we’re not talking about a skinhead message board here, still use the n-word without provocation or understanding, all you need to do is visit your social media network of choice to realize as much. And, again, Danny Ferry is reported to have said some stupid stuff this summer.

Did he do this? I’m still having a hard time believing it, but Ferry certainly hasn’t made it easy to completely dismiss Bonzi Wells’ claim in this instance.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!