By Steve Ginsburg
(Reuters) - Danny Ferry, a basketball lifer who built the success-starved Atlanta Hawks into an NBA title contender before being swept up in a racially charged scandal, said on Tuesday he was unsure of his next career move.
Ferry stepped down as general manager of the Hawks on Monday, ending a 10-month indefinite leave of absence for the former NBA champion and college Player of the Year.
"I don't know what's next," Ferry, whose father played in the National Basketball Association for 10 years, told Reuters. "I love basketball. It's been part of my life since I was a kid.
"That said, the decisions I make going forward will be very heavily weighted on family," added Ferry, who has four teenage daughters and an 8-year-old son.
An audio recording of a conference call with ownership was released last September in which Ferry was heard making racially insensitive comments about free agent forward Luol Deng, who was born in South Sudan.
Ferry was repeating the words written on a scouting report, an account supported by an independent investigation into the matter. However, while the probe cleared Ferry of racial malice, he admitted he should not have said the words.
"I've always been proud of the diversity and inclusion in my life throughout, and certainly during my time in the NBA," Ferry said. "But I did make a mistake. I regret it. It was insensitive.
"It's important for me to own it. I should have never used a third-party scouting report. I should have used different words in doing my job."
Ferry said during the conference call he gave his "strong endorsement" that the Hawks sign Deng for his playing ability and his character but that part of the tape was never released.
"I've always been a Luol fan. That's the irony in all of this," he said softly.
Ferry, 48, built the Hawks into one of the NBA's top teams. Their 60-22 record was the second-best in the NBA this past season and they reached the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
A Duke graduate, Ferry said he experienced "good emotions" despite being on a leave of absence.
"I was proud of our work," he said. "We made a lot of changes during the three years I was there. We changed the culture, we changed the identity and set the organization up for good things going forward."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)