Ferry has been disciplined by the Hawks after making racially insensitive statements about then-free agent Luol Deng during a meeting with team owners in June. The comments became public as part of a letter from Hawks minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. to controlling owner Bruce Levenson demanding Ferry be fired following the meeting.
"I've observed Danny Ferry and his family for many years and I can say Danny Ferry is not a racist," said Wayne Embry, who was the NBA's first African-American general manager with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971. "I don't know all the circumstances, but in the capacity of a president or general manager, you have to do your due diligence on players. It is a responsible way to act."
In a meeting with owners, Ferry read from a background report he'd assembled from sources outside the Hawks organization. Ferry read 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 transcript Gearon made from the meeting.
"I know Danny very well and we've always had high-quality interactions," said player agent Bill Duffy, who represents more than 30 clients including Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Joakim Noah and Andrew Wiggins. "He's been involved in pro basketball his entire life and I've been shown nothing but respect in my dealings with him. He's always been of good character and I have admired him over the years."
On Tuesday, Ferry released a statement apologizing for his comments. He also said he'd called Deng to personally apologize. Ferry, who is starting the third year of a six-year contract, does not plan to step down as general manager and remains running the Hawks.
"Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual, and I certainly regret it," Ferry said. "I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation. I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward."
In Gearon's letter, first obtained by WSB-TV in Atlanta, Gearon said Ferry's comments required the franchise demand he resign or fire him with cause.
"We are appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call," Gearon wrote. "Ferry's comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy."
Gearon did not immediately return a call from ESPN on Tuesday.