His sense of humor and fairness never betrayed him. Neither has he lost an identity with basketball, the game that has been a great provider. Bob Ferry and wife Rita share tranquillity on the shores of the Chesapeake while son Danny plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Bob Jr., once a banker in Charlotte, N.C., is now a restaurant owner and investor.
Married daughter and mother Laura is a sales computer representative, so the Ferry clan is doing well.
"I don't know how you could find a more outstanding family unit than this one," said longtime friend Louis Grasmick. "They're envied by all who who know them for what they represent in true kindness."
The bounce of the ball has been good to all of them and they are deeply grateful. Bob Sr., now 61, can look back on 10 years as an NBA player (he was a first draft choice in 1959) and spent 17 seasons as general manager of the Baltimore/Washington Bullets.
His first playing contract was for $10,000 and, when on the road, the standard $6-per-day meal money.
"Salary then was the equivalent to what a worker got at an automobile assembly plant," he said. "Playing basketball was a 'full part-time' job. That sounds ambiguous, but we were all after off-season employment and hoping it would lead to something permanent when we could no longer play.
"That's why I worked in summer for Larry Beck, 'the Trophy King,' and then had a stand selling tacos and one for shooting baskets at the Timonium State Fair. We all wanted to make friends and find entree to a regular job."
Now players earn multimillion-dollar contracts and can even assure themselves of a million-a-year living off the interest investments can bring. "The serious question is what they're going to do with their time," Ferry said. "In my son Danny's case, I hope he goes to graduate school and, of course, gives something back to humanity."
Ferry's two sons played at Hyattsville's DeMatha High School for coach Morgan Wootten. "He's the most moral man I have ever known," Ferry insisted.
"I can't say enough about him. When my oldest son, Bobby, graduated from Harvard, we were driving home after the ceremonies and in the car we talked about the professors he had known and what he had experienced. I asked him to name the best. He said Morgan Wootten, who coached and also taught him history at DeMatha. I think that tells you all you need to know about his capabilities."
As to his analysis of what separated Michael Jordan from the rest of the NBA world, Ferry replied instantly: "Intelligence, personality, competitiveness, confidence, supreme athletic ability. And, oh yes, he's an overachiever. Nothing was missing."
Ferry remembers when coach Dean Smith was recruiting Bobby for North Carolina, writing letters and obviously regarding him as a prime prospect. Then came a rather subdued yet forthright letter from Smith. He mentioned that he had signed Jordan and, that being the case, it would affect the playing time Bobby could expect, but that they would still like to have him.
The Ferrys respected the direct, but polite message from Smith and, later, at the McDonald's All-Star workouts, Bob the elder saw Jordan for himself and realized the talent he was bringing with him.
The part of basketball that has improved more than any aspect, according to Ferry, is defense. The court is the same size and shooters are amazingly accurate, but teams aren't scoring boxcar numbers with the frequency of the past. Why is the defensive aspect more dominant?
"Video has changed all that," he answered. "Players watch so much of it, they know every move an opponent is going to make, so in a game there are no surprises. They've seen it on the tape and are ready for it."
Ferry, never one to take himself too seriously, said Wilt Chamberlain was his own nemesis. "I always held him to his average -- 50 points -- and I'd get 25."
As general manager with the Bullets, he realizes an enormous amount of luck went with winning. He remembers in the 1978 season, a championship year for the Bullets, when they couldn't buy a basket against the San Antonio Spurs in an important game. Suddenly, there was a power failure and a 15-minute break in the action.
"When the electricians got the lights on again, we couldn't miss a shot. You ask me if coaches in basketball are overrated? No, they're important. They work in a very small classroom. But once they lose respect of the players, they're in trouble -- like when the lions stop being afraid of the lion tamer."
As for a specific coach, Ferry expresses the utmost respect for Gene Shue and believes if the Bullets wouldn't have dropped him during the 1970s, the organization would have won numerous titles.
"He's the most underrated of them all," Ferry said. "A very, very good coach. He was using isolation plays and spreading the court before any others were doing it. Decisive, too. As a player, Gene was as good a competitor as I ever saw."
He said coaching in the NBA has improved as much as the talent on the floor and, specifically, has become more creative. Being able to motivate, of course, is vital, but Ferry said that's a quality of a good teacher.
The Ferry family itself is a quiet kind of model, giving of itself, showing respect to the downtrodden, assisting the homeless and the hungry, but not wanting to talk about it. They have been privileged by having good educations -- Bob Sr. at Saint Louis University, Bob Jr. at Harvard and Danny at Duke -- which basketball provided.
Yet they realize it's incumbent within church and community to share the fruits of their opportunities with others not as fortunate in the too often struggling game of life. This has become a family legacy.
Pub Date: 3/07/99