As the Wizards continued their search for a new president of basketball operations this week, former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. defended Danny Ferry, one of three remaining candidates to replace Ernie Grunfeld, against those who have stigmatized the former DeMatha and Duke star for an incident that happened five years ago.
“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of what I’m hearing people refer to Danny Ferry as if he’s a racist,” Thompson told The Team 980′s Rick “Doc” Walker during an interview Tuesday. “That is the biggest bunch of bullcrap — and if we weren’t on the air, I would say bull-s — that I have ever heard.”
The 77-year-old Thompson offered his unprompted, passionate defense of Ferry in the middle of an unrelated discussion about the NBA playoffs.
Ferry was dismissed as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks in June 2015, nine months after reports surfaced that he read racially insensitive comments written by a scout about free agent Luol Deng during a conference call with team executives.
“I’ve been around him and I know” he’s not a racist, Thompson said of Ferry. “I’m sick of these people, that when somebody says something, it’s interpreted conveniently for people who dislike him to start labeling him. There’s enough sick racists on the planet than to call this boy a racist, and he absolutely is not. Anybody who knows me knows I am racially conscientious, and if I thought he was [a racist], I would say that, but that is the meanest thing that I have heard.”
Thompson, whose own show on The Team 980 ended in February 2012 after a 13-year run, said he still listened to the station regularly and felt compelled to stick up for Ferry after hearing people suggest the Atlanta incident could impact his Wizards’ candidacy.
Ferry, whose father, Bob, was general manager of the Bullets when the franchise won its only NBA title in 1978, is one of three remaining candidates for the Wizards job after Tim Connelly declined an offer from Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis and elected to remain with the Denver Nuggets over the weekend. Ferry conducted a second interview with the Wizards last week. Oklahoma City Thunder vice president Troy Weaver and Tommy Sheppard, who has been handling the Wizards’ day-to-day operations since Grunfeld was dismissed on April 2, are also in the running.
“Not only would he be a hell of a general manager, but he’s a local guy who knows this area and this community,” Thompson said of Ferry, who led Duke to three Final Fours and played 13 seasons in the NBA after his standout career at DeMatha. “He’s smart as hell and he is racially sensitive. I don’t know what the hell happened to have people put that on him, but it bothers me as much as it bothers me when I hear these sanctimonious people act like they’re not [racist]. I just need to say that, and I have to apologize, because it infuriates me."
The Hawks placed Ferry on a paid leave of absence in September 2014 after his conference call comments were leaked to the media, and permanently cut ties with him when the team’s new ownership group took control in June 2015.
“He has a little African in him,” Ferry, while reading the scout’s comments, said on the conference call of Deng, a fellow former Duke star who was born in what is now South Sudan. “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 the back.”
Ferry called Deng to apologize after the incident.
“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng,” Ferry said in a statement released by the Hawks. " . . . I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them."
Ferry joined the New Orleans Pelicans in June 2016 as a special adviser to General Manager Dell Demps and was named the team’s interim GM after Demps was fired in February. Last month, he withdrew his name for consideration as Demps’s replacement as New Orleans’ president of basketball operations.
Ferry and Thompson were two of the biggest names in Washington basketball in the early 1980s. By September of his senior year at DeMatha in 1984, Ferry had narrowed his college choices to Virginia, Duke, UNC and Maryland. Thompson, who had a reputation as a demanding coach, talked to Ferry’s dad about Danny playing for him at Georgetown, which won the national title earlier that year, but Ferry decided against it.
“Part of the reason was the same reason that I didn’t want to go to the University of Maryland: I wanted to get away from home,” Ferry told The Post in April 1985. “It never occurred to me to go [to Georgetown]. I didn’t feel my style of play would fit in there. I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t worry me with all of the things you hear about Coach Thompson. Being the only white player on the team wouldn’t have worried me. I’ve been the only white player on a lot of teams, like in AAU. And I might have been the only white player at Maryland, too . . . I wanted to go away, but not too far away to come home.”
After his junior year at Duke, Ferry was poised to play for Thompson on the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team at the 1988 Seoul Games, but a knee injury ended his hopes of making the squad. The following March, Ferry scored 21 points to lead Duke to an 85-77 win over Thompson’s Hoyas in the East regional final of the NCAA tournament.
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