Atlanta (AFP) - Danny Ferry stepped down as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks on Monday after a 10-month leave of absence following the public release of him making racist remarks.
Ferry made the first public statement regarding his remarks since last August when he began his indefinite leave at the team's request following Ferry's comments being made public.
Ferry made comments in a conference call with team owners that contained racial remarks regarding Britain's Luol Deng, who was being evaluated as a free agent prospect.
In the call last June, Ferry described Deng as a player who "has a little African in him," and also said, "He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."
Ferry and the Hawks say his comments were being read from a scouting report prepared by another person.
"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.
"Now that the key facts have been made known, I am making the difficult decision to step away from this team and this special group of players. I have seen how gracious and forgiving people can be –- especially Luol, who had every right to be hurt and angry after being brought into this situation. I thank him for his forgiveness and support.
"I also greatly appreciate that our players and coaches have been supportive, along with so many friends, old and new. 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."
- Ferry built successful lineup -
The Hawks went 60-22 last season, the second-best record in the NBA to eventual playoff champion Golden State. Atlanta lost to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
ESPN has reported that Ferry and the Hawks agreed to a buyout of the three remaining years of his contract for more than the remaining balance and that Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will become team president and assistant general manager Wes Wilcox will be promoted to general manager.
The lineup Ferry built proved itself among the NBA's best last season but fell to LeBron James and the Cavaliers to just miss reaching the NBA Finals. Ferry also hired Budenholzer, who was named the NBA Coach of the Year.
"Building a successful team takes more than attracting a few stars," Budenholzer said. "It is about finding the right combination of talent and teamwork to become an unbeatable combination. Danny's vision and decision-making shaped the team that fans celebrate on the court today."
Results of a Hawks-commissioned investigation into Ferry's remarks to determine if they were racially motivated were announced as well, with the probe declaring none of the offensive language was worded by Ferry and that his comments were not "motivated by racial or ethnic animus."
"Danny was the principal architect of the Hawks' success in Atlanta," Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin said. "Danny Ferry is not a racist. Danny showed great leadership in stepping aside in the fall so the season could proceed with as few distractions as possible. He has always put the team first despite the great personal difficulties he endured."