While many people around the basketball community have commented on the ongoing situation within the Atlanta Hawks organization, the words of most don't carry the weight that those of Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri do.
As a refresher, the situation in Atlanta involves general manager Danny Ferry having made racially insensitive comments about Luol Deng on a conference call this offseason, comments that led to an internal investigation and ultimately ended with principal owner Bruce Levenson self-reporting an offensive email he sent and agreeing to sell his share of the team.
In recent days, the focus has been primarily on Ferry, who has been disciplined internally for saying Deng has "got some African in him," as well as the following:
He can come out and be an unnamed source for a story and two days later come out and say, 'That absolutely was not me. I can't believe someone said that.'
But talking to reporters, you know they can [believe it]... Good guy in Chicago. They will tell you he was good for their culture, but not a culture setter. He played hard and all those things, but he was very worried about his bobble-head being the last one given away that year, or there was not enough stuff of him in the [team] store … kind of a complex guy.
Deng, from the South Sudan, responded with a classy statement that expressed sadness over the comments and conveyed extreme pride in his African heritage.
On Thursday, Ujiri, who hails from Nigeria, penned an op-ed column for The Globe and Mail. It was a thoughtful, poignant, and impactful read that is absolutely worth your time.
His key message was one of the entire basketball community learning from this, and improving the league's culture such that it doesn't happen again. From his piece:
I spoke to Danny myself about this. He started off by apologizing to Luol. He apologized to me and apologized for any insult he’d offered to African people in general. He explained the incident as best he could to me. There are some things about that conversation I would like to keep between the two of us, but I came away feeling like I’d understood what he had to say.
I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.
That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.
You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.
Danny’s mistake will remain tied to him for a long time. What he’s said can’t be unsaid, but we must measure his heart. If he has made an honest, isolated error, we should forgive and move on.
I spoke to Luol on Thursday morning. The first thing he said to me was, “We have to figure out a way to make sure this doesn’t hurt other African players.”
My hope is that we will soon see Danny Ferry at a Basketball Without Borders camp as well, so that he may come to know us.
Because when we know better, we do better.
Feature photo courtesy of USA Today Sports/Chris Humphreys