Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry resigned his position on Monday, the day the team released findings on its investigation that resulted in Ferry being absolved of any racial or ethnic wrongdoings.
Ferry was put on indefinite leave by the team in August after an unauthorized release of an audio recording containing Ferry making racial and ethnic remarks surrounding Luol Deng.
According to the team, the audio recording was a brief portion of a lengthy conference call with team ownership and others during which Ferry repeated and paraphrased language from a third-party scouting report that contained a culturally insensitive characterization of Deng.
The Hawks retained a highly respected law firm, Alston & Bird LLP, to investigate whether the remarks were racially motivated.
The investigation, which included 19 witness interviews and reviewed the contents of more than 24,000 emails, made clear that the offensive language was not Ferry's and none of Ferry's remarks or behavior during the call were motivated by racial or ethnic animus, or by a person's country of origin.
To the contrary, the investigation found Ferry shared his own opinion of Deng, recommended him both personally and professionally and ultimately tried to sign him to the team.
"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," said Ferry. "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."
The investigation revealed no other negative information on Ferry.
"This season has proved two things," said Steve Koonin, CEO of the Hawks. "First, Danny Ferry is a tremendous GM. Danny was the principal architect of the Hawks' success in Atlanta. From the hiring of Coach Bud to reinventing the roster, Danny's vision has put us in the tremendous place we are today. Danny acted with integrity and professionalism as he guided the organization through important changes over the last few years. Second, 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. Now that the team has identified new ownership, the resolution of Danny's contract with existing ownership is appropriate. We wish Danny and his family only the best moving forward."
The Hawks reportedly will give coach Mike Budenholzer more control of the team's day-to-day operations. Last week, Yahoo! Sports reported that Budenholzer will add the title of team president once the sale of the franchise is approved later this month.
"Building a successful team takes more than attracting a few stars," said Budenholzer. "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."
Budenholzer was named the NBA's top coach for the 2014-15 season after the Hawks finished atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 60-22.
A group led by billionaire Tony Ressler reached an agreement in April to buy the Hawks. The NBA Board of Governors will likely give its approval.
On the court, Ferry led the building of a winning lineup. During his tenure, the team roster was reshaped as he engineered trades of several veterans; re- established valuable flexibility with the salary cap and draft picks; and simultaneously scouted and signed many of the standout players currently on the team. He also hired Budenholzer into his first head coaching position.