Danny Ferry: In The Footsteps Of His Father
(David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)
He never imagined it would turn out this way. That he would play in the NBA, become a league executive, celebrate championships and mirror almost every career move made by his 6-foot-8 father.
“All I wanted to do,” recalls 6-foot-10 Danny Ferry, “was play basketball.”
He got his wish and more. Not many boys get their first ball from an NBA player. Not many learn how to dribble and shoot from a league veteran. But that’s how it was for the son of Bob Ferry. Danny grew up in the lap of a Baltimore Bullets forward. And when dad retired and moved into the front office, Danny tagged along to practices with the general manager.
Decades later, the memories remain vivid. As a kid, when the franchise relocated and became known as the Washington Bullets, he rebounded for Elvin Hayes. He shot with Mitch Kupchak. And he ran for his life from Wes Unseld. Once, Unseld grabbed young Danny and held him by the ankles over a second floor stairwell, just for fun. “To this day,” says Danny, vice president of operations for the Spurs, “he calls me a sissy because I would run whenever I saw him.”
Unseld stood 6-feet-7 and weighed 245 pounds. Picking up the GM’s son was like picking up a ball. “He’d throw him up in the air and Danny tried to act like he liked it,” Bob says, “but he was scared to death. I think Wes was working on his outlet pass with Danny.”
When Danny came home from school, he might find a Washington Bullet moving into his house, like Tom Kropp. Or he might find a player like Roger Phegley, who later suited up for the Spurs. “If it wasn’t a player,” Danny says, “dad had someone else staying with us. He always adopted people. It was interesting.”
That’s one way to put it. Young Danny hung with the Bullets at practice, ate with a player or two at home and listened to them talk hoops over dinner. But that wasn’t all. An older brother, Bobby, starred at Harvard and let young Danny play with him in pickup games. Then there was dad, who took Danny with him to college games. “Basketball,” Danny says, “was always a big part of what we were doing.”
Danny may not have known it, but he was studying at the Ferry School of NBA leadership. At the age of 11, he watched his dad assemble an NBA champion in 1978. He saw the pieces come together, enjoyed the magic of a playoff run and celebrated the Game 7 NBA Finals road victory over Seattle. “We stayed up and watched the game,” Danny says. “I remember that vividly. I remember the parade.”
Bob remembers, too. He never celebrated a championship as a player. But when he finally claimed one as a general manager, the emotion wasn’t what he expected. “Winning a championship was just a relief,” he says. “When you win the last game, you wait for this big rush of joy and everything. But you are almost too exhausted to really appreciate it. The older I get, though, the more I appreciate it.”
Danny doesn’t have to grow older to appreciate the coaches who taught him: the legendary Morgan Wooten at DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Lenny Wilkins in Cleveland, Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Then there was the NBA father and a 6-4 NBA draft pick brother at home. “Unbelievably rich experiences,” Danny says. “I had opportunities like very few.”
Bob averaged 9.1 points in 10 NBA seasons; Danny averaged 7.0 points in 13. One major difference: Danny played on a championship team, retiring with the Spurs after Game 6 of the 2003 Finals. “That was the end of the David Robinson era,” Danny says. “It was incredible.”
Toward the end of that season, Pop and general manager R.C. Buford approached Danny: Would you be interested in a front office job? It didn’t matter that Danny had been raised under the eye of a two-time NBA Executive of the Year. It didn’t matter that he’d scouted talent with his father. It didn’t matter that he’d seen first-hand how to build a championship team. Danny had never considered a career in management. “I’d never thought about it,” he says. “That’s for sure.”
But he didn’t know what he’d do after basketball so he didn’t dismiss the overture. Conversations continued. Danny’s knees creaked, his body sent a message. He loved San Antonio, his family did, too. When the formal offer came, he didn’t have to think much. “It was a no-brainer,” Danny says.
He became director of basketball operations. Like his father, Danny enjoyed a championship in management when the Spurs defeated Detroit in the 2005 NBA Finals. He assumed the GM job in Cleveland two weeks after the title and hired his father as a scout. “It was supposed to be a part-time retirement job but I guess I made it into a full time job,” Bob says. “I’m forever grateful.”
Six years later, Danny returned to the Spurs front office, and in a way it felt as if he’d never left town. “He used to come back all the time,” Bob says. ”On spring break. The holidays. Summer time. He kept his house there even when he went to Cleveland.”
Now here he is, seven years into a post-playing career he never imagined: NBA management. No, Bob never saw this coming, either. But the parallel path of father and son keeps them in touch, keep them close.
Just as they’ve always been.