ATLANTA - Danny Ferry has stepped down as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks after a 10-month leave of absence from the National Basketball Association franchise, following the public release of an audio recording in which he made racist remarks.
The 48-year-old took leave of the team in August after a recording from a conference call with team owners was publicised. In it, he said All-Star Luol Deng, who was being evaluated as a free agent prospect, had "some African in him" and "he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back".
Ferry claimed he was reading off a third-party scouting report. An independent investigation commissioned by the team confirmed that the words were not his.
"While the past year has been incredibly difficult and humbling, it is critical for me to clear my name and for people to realise that I have always built a culture of respect, diversity and honesty," he 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."
Steve Koonin, the Hawks' chief executive, said on Monday that Ferry deserves the credit for building the Atlanta team, who went 60-22 this season, best in the NBA'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. "He has always put the team first despite the great personal difficulties he endured."
Ferry's leave of absence came five days after majority owner Bruce Levenson announced that he would sell the NBA club following the disclosure of an "offensive" e-mail.
In April, a group led by Ares Management's co-founder Tony Ressler bought the team for US$730 million (S$969 million).
ESPN 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.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG