NBA Players Bothered by Hawks' Situation, but Not Unanimous in Condemnation

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterSeptember 17, 2014

David Tulis/AP Images

Carmelo Anthony speaks for some NBA players when it comes to the Atlanta Hawks. Just not all of them.   

The New York Knicks small forward said last weekend that free agents would not consider signing with the Atlanta franchise after an email came to light in which managing partner Bruce Levenson discussed ways of attracting more white fans. Reports then emerged that general manager Danny Ferry had held a conference call in which he described free agent Luol Deng as having "some African in him" and then defined that as a derogatory attribute.   

"Ain't nobody would want to go there," Anthony told reporters at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp in Manhattan. "I'm speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, no matter what it is."

Memo to Melo: No, you don't. Yes, some players would.

Conversations with a cross section of black NBA players via text, email and phone revealed a wide and varied reaction to Ferry's assessment of Deng, who is from South Sudan, and the email by Levenson—to Ferryabout his concerns that the team's abundance of African-American fans were discouraging white fans from attending games.

Levenson suggested changes in the music played in the arena and the addition of white women to the dance team as ways that might attract a more diverse crowd. Ferry, who later said he was reading from a scouting report composed by someone else, said of Deng, "He has a storefront...that is beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you."

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 22:  Carmelo Anthony watches the USA aginst Puerto Rico game at Madison Square Garden on August 22, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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One veteran power forward in the Western Conference said he still would play for Ferry and the Hawks. "The reason I say that is because I know Danny and that's the only reason," he said. "Who knows the whole story? For me, I've dealt with him, so I don't think he's a racist. At the same time, if things were equalplaying situation, money and everything elseI might choose someplace else."

A small forward signed through this season said that while he doesn't like the idea of playing for someone who would feel comfortable sharing a report of that kind, he also admitted to being pragmatic.

"I wouldn't go there unless they were offering $40 million and the next best offer was $30 million," he said. "I'm not going to let someone mess with my money." He added, though, that he still wouldn't shake Ferry's hand.

Both the power forward and small forward took greater issue with the negative character assessment of Deng than the racist overtones of the remarks. "I've never heard one bad thing about Luol," the power forward said.

The small forward questioned both Ferry's right to speak derisively of Deng as well as his acumen as a GM if he didn't know better than to trust a report that cast Deng in such a light, especially considering Ferry and Deng both played at Duke for coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The critical comments about Luol Deng read in a scouting report by Danny Ferry puzzled many NBA players, who hold the veteran forward in high esteem.
The critical comments about Luol Deng read in a scouting report by Danny Ferry puzzled many NBA players, who hold the veteran forward in high esteem.David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

"Who is he to talk about Luol Deng that way?" asked the small forward. "What has he done? Luol has had 10 times the career Danny has."

Levenson's remarks, on the other hand, didn't bother the small forward.

"I'm a businessman," he said. "Let's face it, he's just trying to attract consumers that have money to spend. I don't see anything wrong with that. It's the reality of the situation."

Another small forward currently unsigned said that Levenson's remarks could cost the Hawks some of their existing fanbase. Atlanta's vibrant music scene, he said, has some calling it the new "Black Hollywood," including a fair number of black artists, producers and other industry moguls who consider themselves Hawks fans.

One veteran shooting guard who could be a free agent next summer did agree with Anthony, writing: "I think Melo hit it on the head, players will be hesitant to look there as a place to take their families! I don't see it happening!"

To sum up where the Hawks stand: Some players would not consider playing for them under any circumstances and some would under certain circumstances. All of that, of course, could change if Levenson and Ferry are no longer part of the organization.

A league source says an interest by minority owner Michael Gearon in ousting Ferry led to the discovery of his remarks about Deng, which then led to a deeper investigation that uncovered Levenson's email. Ferry, the source said, apparently upset Gearon by firing or demoting employees Gearon favored. Gearon, ultimately, is seeking to gain control of the franchise. Levenson has agreed to sell his share of the team and Ferry is currently taking an indefinite leave of absence.

After his controversial email came to light, Bruce Levenson agreed to sell the Hawks, a team Forbes estimates is worth $425 million.
After his controversial email came to light, Bruce Levenson agreed to sell the Hawks, a team Forbes estimates is worth $425 million.John Bazemore/Associated Press

The unsigned small forward said he and others are convinced that there are still owners who share the racially tinged views of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling because they tolerated his company for decades. The power forward in the Western Conference is equally sure Ferry and his staff aren't the only ones in the league assessing players in such insulting terms.

"Obviously they're not the only ones doing these scouting reports," he said. "It's scary, especially if they're saying things like that about someone like Luol. It makes me question what is said about all of us."    

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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