By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
He was the 6-year-old kid who sat on his father's lap when then Washington Bullets general manager Bob Ferry scouted talent for the team. He was the 8-year-old kid Wes Unseld used to dangle over the Bullets' practice court. He was the 11-year-old kid who upset his big brother by dressing "Bullets," the family dog, in a team sweater the night Washington beat Seattle in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1978.
And now he is the 39-year-old kid who has followed his father into the family business -- running a professional basketball team. "I'm not really surprised, no," Bob Ferry said by phone when asked about his son's professional pursuits. "He grew up around the game."
When Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry was born in 1966, it's a wonder his parents didn't take him home in a peach basket. Bob Ferry was general manager of the Bullets for 17 years, so it was nothing for him to take his children to games and practices. But he had no idea how it would later impact his youngest son and help change the face of franchises in Washington and Cleveland, where the Wizards (5-1) face the Cavaliers (5-2) tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.
Danny Ferry would often rebound shots for Unseld or Mitch Kupchak, eavesdrop on conversations his dad had with other executives or even sit in on lunches his father had with Boston Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach. "At the dinner table, often, players were talked about. Coaches. It was part of our household conversations," said Bob Ferry, who won NBA executive of the year for the 1978-79 and 1981-82 seasons. "I don't think I realized how much he was listening. I tried to keep the basketball end out of our family as much as I could, but I just couldn't help it."
Growing up in Bowie, Danny Ferry received a basketball education most children would envy, but he doesn't believe it made him more qualified or more prepared to be general manager of the Cavaliers. "It makes me a little different than most other GMs. But it's part of the equation," Ferry said. "I wasn't going to GM school at the time. I was just growing up. I was being a son, tagging along with my dad just like other kids do."
Ferry was a high school national player of the year at DeMatha, where he learned from the legendary Morgan Wootten, college national player of the year at Duke, where he learned from Mike Krzyzewski, and a solid NBA role-player for 13 years in Cleveland and San Antonio. He said all of his experiences in basketball have added up to his life taking this route, but noted that a career in basketball was the furthest thing from his mind as a child.
"I never even thought about it," Ferry said. "When I was playing as a kid, I never dreamt that I would be an NBA player. I just wanted to play. I didn't really start thinking about the NBA until my last years in college. I never said, 'Hey I want to be in the front office.' But toward the end of my career, I thought, 'That might be interesting.' "
San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said he noticed that Ferry had the chops to succeed in the front office during Ferry's last three seasons in San Antonio. "As a player, he was one of those no-brainers, like Avery Johnson. He understood the game. He knew what was going on. He could make adjustments in the game, just like any of us coaches," Popovich said. "You could see he was highly intelligent."
While the Spurs were headed toward their second NBA title in 2003, Popovich and Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford approached Ferry about trying another side of basketball. Ferry said he didn't have to think too hard about staying in San Antonio, given his family's affinity for the area and his chance to be around the model organization in the NBA.
After two seasons as director of basketball operations for the Spurs, the Cavaliers offered Ferry the opportunity to become the NBA's youngest general manager and build a winning team -- with the NBA's would-be king, LeBron James, and $28 million in salary cap space.
Ferry labored over the decision until the day after the Spurs' championship parade. "The opportunity was one that if I didn't take, it would've been too many 'what ifs,' " said Ferry, who joined the Cavaliers a day before the draft, a few days before the free agent recruiting period. "I took this job because of the challenge. There is an inherent pressure that this job has, but again, that's part of the reason I took it. It gets your blood pumping a little bit."
And, whenever he needs help, Ferry doesn't have to look far. "My dad's given me advice. But he's stepped back. I don't think he wants to stand over my shoulder," said Ferry, who added that he hired his father to do some scouting for the Cavaliers. "It'll be fun doing this with him in some regard, but I'm not going to have him move to Cleveland."
Bob Ferry, who took over as general manager of the Bullets when he was just 33, said he can find several parallels with his son. When Bob Ferry was hired, the Bullets already had a coach in K.C. Jones. When Danny Ferry was hired, the Cavaliers already had a coach in Mike Brown. "I would say there were times when I thought, 'What did I get myself into?' " said Bob Ferry, who had a 10-year playing career with the St. Louis Hawks, Detroit Pistons and Baltimore Bullets. "But I would say we were similar. I think both of us took a job that we had to do. We both were presented with great opportunity. And had to figure out how to do it. The easy decision for him would've been to stay in San Antonio and go along for a ride."
The Spurs wouldn't have complained if Danny Ferry had stayed. "To date, we haven't really replaced him yet," Popovich said. "We haven't found anybody for his slot, because we haven't found his equal. I think [the Cavaliers are] lucky to get somebody that savvy, that intelligent. He's going to do a great job."
When Danny Ferry reeled in his first big catch in free agency last summer, he was somewhat conflicted. While thrilled about plucking guard Larry Hughes away from the Washington Wizards and giving James an explosive running mate, Ferry didn't want it to look like he was declaring war on an old family friend; especially when that old friend -- 81-year-old Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin -- had recently been hospitalized for heart bypass surgery. So, shortly after he signed Donyell Marshall, another free agent the Wizards pursued, Ferry called his father. "He's like, 'Dad, I really feel funny about all this. You know how much I always liked Mr. Pollin,' " Bob Ferry said by phone recently. Danny "was very worried and concerned that he might be taking something from Mr. Pollin."
To understand why an NBA general manager would be concerned about upsetting the owner of an opposing team, you'd have to understand that Danny Ferry's roots with the local 12 run deep. "I felt that maybe [Pollin] thought I was going out and attacking [the Wizards], which wasn't the case," Ferry said. "But no, I didn't feel guilt. It's part of the sport, part of the game. I think getting Larry is a good thing for our organization, with the focus of winning. Along with that, I think the Wizards have made out well with the moves they made this offseason. Things have worked out well for us. They've worked out well for the Wizards."