Hawks, civil rights leaders vow to work together

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks and city civil rights leaders said Friday's meeting between the team's CEO and the group was "extremely productive."

The civil rights leaders, led by The Rev. Markel Hutchins, requested the meeting with Hawks CEO Steve Koonin following racially charged comments by Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry.

Levenson is selling his majority share of the team and Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed was to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in New York on Friday regarding the sale.

Levenson's Washington partner, Ed Peskowitz, has also agreed to sell his share, meaning at least 50.1 percent of the team is available.

A statement from Reed's office on Friday said, "The mayor is confident that the Hawks organization will work to find new ownership that is serious about being inclusive."

Hutchins' positive review of the meeting was a contrast to his sharp criticism of the team's leaders earlier this month.

"We had a productive, great conversation and a great dialogue," Hutchins said Friday.

Hutchins said the decision to release the joint statement was "a condition of our being able to move forward and work together."

The joint statement was brief.

"Earlier today, members of the Hawks executive committee and civil rights leaders met inside Philips Arena," the statement said. "It was an extremely productive conversation and we are committed to working together moving forward."

Hutchins and other civil rights leaders expressed outrage earlier this month when a meeting scheduled for Sept. 10 was postponed. At that time, Hutchins called for Ferry to resign or be fired.

"There is no way that a man who uses the kind of language and holds the kind of sentiments that he does should be the general manager of the basketball team in the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cradle of the civil rights movement," Hutchins said.

Ferry landed in trouble for making inflammatory comments about forward Luol Deng, who was then a free agent, in a conference call with the Hawks' ownership group in June. Ferry referred to comments in a scouting report when he described Deng as someone who "has a little African in him."

Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan, now plays for the Miami Heat.

The Hawks' internal investigation of Ferry's comments uncovered inflammatory racial comments from Levenson in an email written two years ago. In the email, Levenson said the team struggles with attendance because "the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base."

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