The NBA will not discipline Atlanta Hawks General Manager Wes Wilcox for a racially insensitive comment made while fielding questions from a group of season ticket holders at a pregame event last month, according to a league source.
Deadspin first reported Friday that Wilcox, in an attempt to diffuse some of the tension during a contentious meeting with fans of the team before playing the Miami Heat on Dec. 7 – the Hawks entered that game having lost 10 out of 11 after a 9-2 start – tried to make a joke about his family.
“I know you guys may be angry with me,” Wilcox said, “but I’m used to it because I have a black wife and three mixed kids, so I’m used to people being angry and argumentative.”
His comment fell flat with a fan, season ticket holder Clarenton Crawford, and his wife, according to the Deadspin report, who later exchanged emails with Hawks COO Steve Koonin and later had a meeting with Koonin and Hawks senior vice president Nzinga Shaw, whom Atlanta hired as the league’s first diversity officer in the wake of prior racially offensive comments by former general manager Danny Ferry and former owner Bruce Levenson.
Wilcox apologized in a statement to Deadspin, saying, “At an early December chalk talk, I made a self-deprecating comment at my expense regarding my family, which is multi-racial. This joke offended Mr. Crawford and his wife and for that, I apologize.”
While such comments would likely make news anywhere, they are a particularly hot-button topic in Atlanta, given that the Hawks prior history with the subject of race. Wilcox ascended to his current job once Ferry stepped down in 2015 after a long leave of absence following racially insensitive comments he made on a conference call with the team’s ownership group about then-free agent Luol Deng.
Ferry said Deng “has a little African in him,” and then added, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry always maintained he was reading from a scouting report that had been prepared by a third party, which was later corroborated by an investigation conducted by a law firm hired by the team in the wake of the comments becoming public.
Deng, a South Sudan native, signed that summer with the Miami Heat.
Those comments became public along with a racially insensitive email sent by Levenson, who wound up choosing to sell his controlling interest in the Hawks after he self-reported an email he wrote to the team’s co-owners, along with Ferry, in 2012 that made several racially insensitive comments about the team’s fan base, including Levenson claiming that “the black crowd scared away the whites, and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant ticket base.”
Levenson, who grew up in Chevy Chase and graduated from law school at American University, sold the team to a group led by Tony Ressler and former NBA star Grant Hill in June 2015.