The game is one of thousands the Bullets' general manager has attended over the years, in a gym impressive only to players and fans whose basketball experience has been bounded by the Beltway. His eyes miss nothing on the court, but the generally blank expression Bob Ferry wears during even the most heated moments suggests nothing more than another evening in a different and rather drab office. The expression lies.
"It often gets almost as intense as the seventh game when we won the (NBA) title," Ferry admits. "It's about as much as I can handle, tryin' to look cool."
Tryin' to look scout-cool, professional and above it all, when a part of you is wearing No. 35 and is the object of so much attention from everybody on hand. Tryin' to look father-cool, reasonable and restrained, when your son has been rammed to the floor by an elbow. Yeah, a former college all-America and 10-year NBA player also has tidal waves of emotion crashing inside him. He just hides 'em better than most frantic fathers.
Ferry has done about all that is possible in his sport, winning a few off the court against Red Auerbach and a few on the court against Bill Russell. He has watched most of the glittering games in recent years, but has never seen more moving moments than those on the court he built himself; what a matchless feeling that surely was, to have combed the country for talent, from Portland to Portland, Miami to Malibu, and realized he'd tucked two fine ones in their cribs not so long ago.
Bobby and Danny Ferry experienced basketball almost before they were as big as one. Bob still has a picture of himself taking notes, during a game at Cole Field House, with one hand and cradling Danny in his lap with the other. Along with the usual little-boy awe of athletes, the Ferrys realized reality, for dinner conversation frequently would include mention of Bob having to cut some cover-boy collegian.
Bobby is away at Harvard, leading the country in free-throw shooting and carrying a double major in history and government. Danny is a lap-crushing 6-10 now, a junior at De Matha and so precocious that nearly every Dean, Lefty and Joe B. has come calling.
Chit-chat among recruiters goes: know the most direct route to an NCAA title? By Ferry.
This is overblown and unfair, of course, as is most talk about most high-school prospects. "Not a franchise, not a Ralph Sampson," cautious father Ferry insists. "A nice player who's gonna get better."
Ferry often is overwhelmed by so much uncommonly good fortune. Unlike many families, this one has not been forced to move during Bobby's and Danny's formative years; the boys have been blessed with extraordinarily good basketball teachers, good health and parents who do not mind picking them up at 3 a.m. now and then.
Ferry loves Laura, 21, no less than the boys but simply cannot share as many pleasures.
As parents with gifted children in science or the arts do, Bob and Rita Ferry wanted the most worthwhile learning environment possible. With basketball, that eventually leads to what Ferry calls "busing in reverse," suburban players testing themselves in city games. Over the years, Bobby and Danny have mastered the area-wide public transportation system and also become comfortable in heavy traffic on D.C. playgrounds.
"You notice a change in maturity," Bob said. "They had played against little white kids, and then found a game entirely different. They would come home with looks on their faces that said: 'My God, can I do this?' Startled and feeling: 'Am I that good?' "
In time, they were.
Bobby earned the final position on the De Matha varsity as a sophomore, with no promises beyond perhaps a minute of action each game. During a December tournament in Lake Charles, La., according to Coach Morgan Wootten, Dereck Whittenburg suffered a broken foot. Off the bench popped Bobby Ferry, scoring 25 points in a five-overtime victory and eventually cracking the top five among all-time De Matha scorers.
Recruitment for the boys has been much tamer than when Bob was growing to 6-7 in St. Louis. Colleges could wine and dine prospects on whim in the '50s. One of the scouts he hired for the Bullets, Bill Gardiner, offered Ferry his first scholarship. Nobody is supposed to buy a prospect so much as a hamburger off campus now.
"My ol' man would turn over in his grave if he knew his grandson was going to Harvard," said Bob, laughing at the fact that he pays more each year for Bobby's education than he ever earned during a season in the NBA. "You hope basketball works out, but if it doesn't he'll be ready for anything."
During Bobby's senior season at De Matha, Dean Smith took the time to write a polite note saying he had just signed Michael Jordan and that there might not be much playing time, after all, at North Carolina. Both Ferrys understood, the father having received a similar courtesy his final high school year when Kansas collared Wilt Chamberlain.
Basketball being a remarkably small society at times, Bob Ferry was among the last to see the brother of Bobby's coach at Harvard, Frank McLaughlin, alive. They had been teammates at St. Louis before John was killed in a car crash.
Danny, his father says, "searches to play." He joined Sid Catlett, Drew Komlo, Adrian Dantley and Hawkeye Whitney as the only freshmen to make the varsity at De Matha. Look at Danny and you see Bob 29 years ago. Same grace and poise on the court.
Against Carroll's rugged Derrick Lewis the other night, Danny had caused Bob's stomach to flutter in the usual ways. The son is young, the father proud and demanding. There had been tests of will all game, until Danny took an inbounds pass and powered by Lewis and another Carroll defender for a thunderclap slam.
Outwardly, Ferry stayed as calm as if that had been Jeff Ruland during practice. Not bad at all. Nice, even. We fathers know better, that his heart surely had done a fast break to his throat.
"I never have had more of a rush of excitement," he admitted, "than when Bobby's team beat Dunbar for the city title game, after being down so much at halftime, and he was named MVP."
Daily doses of family life fill Ferry with satisfaction. So much is said during small talk. Or no-talk rides to practice.
"I think the best feelings I get around the two boys," he said, "are the way they treat each other and their mother. That's continuous."
Outside Ferry's office, a scene increasingly familiar was unfolding. His secretary had phoned a university whose team he wanted to scout and been informed the game was a sellout. No ticket, nohow. Ferry often faces this and has not minded scrounging through other sources over the years.
Danny's brilliance has made Bob's access to college games uncomfortably easier.
A call was made to an assistant coach. Could a ticket be arranged?
"If necessary," the eager man said, "he can have my wife's."