In his debut with the Heat on Friday at the Miami’s Media Day, Luol Deng had to deal with an issue he didn’t choose to be a part of but was glad to discuss.
Deng said he forgives Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry for the racially charged comments Ferry made about the forward, who was seriously considering Atlanta before signing with Miami this summer.
In audio revealed in early September, Ferry targeted Deng’s heritage: “He’s a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. I don’t say that in a negative way.
“He’s a guy who would have a nice store out front that’s beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you. For example, he can come out and be the unnamed source for a story, and two weeks later say ‘that’s absolutely not me’ and ‘can’t believe somebody said that,’ but talking to reporters, you know it’s him …”
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Deng, a Sudanese British national, was eager to clear the air about Ferry.
“I think one of the hardest things to do as a human being and something that we should do more often is forgive,” Deng said. “I do forgive Danny, it’s not something that I want to hold on to for the rest of my career or the rest of my life.
“The main focus really should be how we move on forward what are we going to do about it, instead of just pointing fingers and trying to go after each other and be mad at each other.”
The 29-year-old said he doesn’t believe Ferry is racist and is keen on making the best out of the situation, be it by working with Ferry to found an organization that benefits people in Deng’s native Africa or providing sensitivity training.
“Now we have a chance to put an end to it,” Deng said, “and make sure things like this don’t happen again.”
Although Deng took care of off-the-court issues, the rest of the Heat organization was concerned with what the two-time All-Star can contribute to Miami’s post-LeBron James Era.
As a small forward raised to be aggressive in Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls’ system, Deng was pulling in 19 points per game last season before he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 10-year veteran is expected to take the reins at small forward and was high on Erik Spoelstra’s list of free agents to pursue.
“It’s probably not a surprise to anybody that we really sought after a player like Luol Deng,” Spoelstra said. “All of the qualities that he brings in terms of intangibles, winning, toughness, defensive-minded — he’s a very underrated, multi-skilled offensive player that we think fits the type of versatility we want to have on our team.”
Dwayne Wade, who hasn’t forgotten some of the nastier Bulls-Heat battles in recent years, billed his former Eastern Conference foe as the team workhorse.
“He’s just a competitor. He can go out there and compete with his game and his mouth and all those other things, that’s why when a guy like that, that you have those kind of battles versus, you can settle with open arms,” Wade said. “We wanted to have him because we know what he brings.”