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Deng issues harsh rebuke to 'African’ comments

MIAMI — Spoken about in derisive and bigoted terms during his offseason NBA free-agency recruitment by the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat forward Luol Deng responded from the heart Tuesday.

In a statement released in the hours after Atlanta General Manager Danny Ferry was sanctioned by the Hawks for his insensitive portrayal of the former All-Star in a scouting report, and two days after Hawks owner Bruce Levenson announced plans to step down following his own racially charged email, Deng offered a passionate rebuke to a Hawks background evaluation that noted of the Sudan-born forward, “he has a little African in him.”

Deng’s statement opened by quoting that comment, followed by:

“These words were recently used to describe me. It would ordinarily make any African parent proud to hear their child recognized for their heritage.

“I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just ‘a little.’ For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength. Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage. Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.

“Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete. Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.

“However, there is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren’t comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up. In the same way a generalization should not define a group of people, the attitude of a few should not define a whole organization or league.

“Ultimately, I’m thankful to be with an organization that appreciates me for who I am and has gone out of its way to make me feel welcome.”

Deng signed a two-year, $20 million free-agent contract with the Heat in July, after being courted by several teams, including the Hawks.

Both Ferry and Deng are products of Mike Krzyzewski’s program at Duke.

Calling his general manager’s racially insensitive comments that included the “African’ statement worse than the bigoted remarks that led to Donald Sterling’s ouster from the NBA, a Hawks minority owner had previously sought the dismissal of Ferry.

According to a memo written in June by minority owner Michael Gearon to Levenson, the comments made by Ferry on a June organizational conference call about Deng “were far worse than Sterling’s because they were not from a private personal conversation.”

Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers by the NBA after racially insensitive comments were leaked from a private phone call that later was made public.

According to Gearon’s memo, during the evaluation conference call, after Ferry discussed Deng’s merits, Ferry continued that Deng, “he has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Gearon’s memo continued, “Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly, all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.”

The release of the memo led to a Tuesday statement from Ferry that read:

“In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players. I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning.”

Gearon’s June memo to Levenson concluded, “We are calling on you, as majority owner and NBA Governor, to take swift and severe action against Ferry. Our advisors tell us there is no other choice but to ask for Ferry’s resignation and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment agreement.”

The Hawks said Ferry has been disciplined but remains as general manager.