MIAMI: African-born British NBA star Luol Deng said he was saddened and disappointed in remarks made about him in June by Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry.
Ferry issued an apology Tuesday and said he was only reading comments from others evaluating Deng as a potential free agent signing by the Hawks when he made his racially charged remarks during a conference call.
“Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete,” Deng said in a statement released to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspapers.
“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.”
Ferry said in June that Deng “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.”
According to a June letter by Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon obtained by Atlanta television station WSB, Ferry also described Deng as a “two-faced liar and cheat.”
Deng, born in what is now South Sudan, played for Britain in the 2012 London Olympics and is known for his off-season humanitarian work.
“‘He has a little African in him.’ These words were recently used to describe me,” Deng said. “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.”
Gearon pushed for Ferry to be fired in June and sparked an internal investigation of racism within the Hawks organization that uncovered a 2012 e-mail with racist remarks by owner Bruce Levenson, who on Sunday announced he was selling the team as a result.
“There is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren’t comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up,” Deng said. “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.”
The 29-year-old forward spent 10 years with the Chicago Bulls and was briefly with Cleveland earlier this year before signing in July with Miami.
“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 said.