Bob Ferry, who enjoyed a nearly three-decade career in professional basketball as a player and executive, died Wednesday at the age of 84 from natural causes. The Annapolis resident died at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
Danny Ferry, a former NBA player and an executive, said his father had recently been hospitalized for 12 days and it “knocked the wind out of him.” Bob Ferry had melanoma and a heart condition and appeared to be suffering from an infection toward the end, his son said.
Bob Ferry was best known as general manager of the Washington Bullets from 1973 through 1990. The Bullets made the playoffs in 13 of 17 years under Ferry’s guidance, reaching the NBA Finals three times.
Ferry was the architect of the 1978 Washington team that captured the only NBA championship in franchise history. The renamed Washington Wizards have qualified for the playoffs just 10 times in the 31 seasons since Ferry retired.
Ferry is one of four general managers in NBA history with 700 wins, 13 playoff appearances and a championship. He was a two-time NBA Executive of the Year.
Washington Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. announced Ferry’s death before Wednesday night’s game at Boston. His father and namesake was the starting center and linchpin of the 1978 championship squad and later coached the Bullets toward the end of Ferry’s tenure.
“Obviously he and his family, dear to my parents and the Unseld family, to the Wizards’ organization, and we want to just wish him and his family the best, keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” the younger Unseld said.
Danny Ferry was general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005 through 2010 and convinced his father to serve as a scout for the organization. Bob Ferry agreed to do so and had a second career in scouting for the Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets until he was 81.
“Basketball was Bob’s life,” said Rita Ferry, his wife of 63 years. “It was a very exciting life and allowed us to go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people.”
Bob Ferry was born and raised in St. Louis and was a standout athlete at Cleveland High. His father, Willard, was an autoworker at the Fisher Body plant and his mother, Elsie, was a homemaker.
Coach Eddie Hickey recruited Ferry to St. Louis University and he was named first team All-American as a senior in 1959. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound center led the Billikens to the National Invitational Tournament and his No. 43 was later retired by the university.
Ferry met his future wife at St. Louis University, and she remembers when he was pictured on the cover of Look Magazine along with the rest of the 1959 All-American team.
Ferry was selected by the St. Louis Hawks in the first round (seventh pick) of the 1959 NBA draft and spent 10 seasons in the league with the Hawks, Detroit Pistons and Baltimore Bullets. Ferry did battle with such standout centers as Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell while averaging averaged 9.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists over the course of his career.
Ferry was still playing with the Bullets when an injury led him to become a part-time scout and assistant for coach Gene Shue. It was Ferry who suggested the Bullets choose Wes Unseld with the second pick of the 1968 draft even though he was an undersized 6-foot-7 center at Louisville.
Unseld paired with 6-foot-9 power forward Elvin Hayes to give the Bullets one of the best inside tandems in the league.
Danny Ferry said Bullets owner Abe Pollin promoted his father to general manager in 1973, the year the team moved from Baltimore to Landover, because he sold so many advertisements for the team’s game programs. “Management thought that meant he must know a lot about business,” Danny said.
Ferry built the 1975 team that was swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. He had also seen the Baltimore franchise get swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1971 finals and was determined to get the franchise over the hump.
That 1975 team was led by K.C. Jones, one of the first Black head coaches in NBA history.
Jones was replaced by Dick Motta and Ferry finally found the perfect player to solidify the front line alongside the interior tandem of Unseld and Hayes.
Ferry signed veteran small forward Bobby Dandridge, in part because he was one of the few players at the position that could successfully defend Philadelphia 76ers superstar Julius Erving. Unseld, Hayes and Dandridge would all later be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Bob’s eye for talent and knowing how to construct a team was excellent,” former Bullets guard Phil Chenier said. “He had the vision to realize Dandridge was the missing piece of the puzzle.”
That expertise culiminated in 1978 when Washington upset the favored San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals and then stunned the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals as Dandridge outplayed Erving.
The Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game series to capture the championship, the crowning achievement of Ferry’s executive career.
“By the time you reach the final game, the journey getting there has already been more than you thought you could handle — the pressure, the desire to win. But it was a great experience,” Ferry said. “After we won it all, I became a little smarter.”
When Chenier learned of Ferry’s passing, the first thing he did was call former Bullets point guard Kevin Porter. To this day, both men say they owe their pro basketball careers to Ferry, who took a chance on them.
Chenier was not a highly touted player coming out of California-Berkeley, but Ferry had scouted him during tryouts for the United States team going to the Pan-American Games and liked his shooting and ballhandling ability.
Washington made Chenier the fourth pick of the 1971 NBA draft and he promptly made the All-Rookie team. The 6-foot-3 wing guard would become a three-time All-Star and play 10 seasons in the league.
“There were times when I was struggling and Bob would pop into practice and always have words of encouragement, which meant a lot,” Chenier said. “Bob was very outgoing and engaging, the type of guy you couldn’t help but like. He had gone through the grind of playing in the league, so he had a good way of measuring the temperament of players.”
The Ferry family lived in Bowie for 13 years before moving to Annapolis in 1989. Bob and Rita settled into a home in the Podickory Point community off Log Inn Road near the Bay Bridge.
Ferry was a communicant of St. Andrew’s by the Bay Catholic Church in Cape St. Claire and was a dedicated volunteer with the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club. He was a tireless volunteer for the club, which named the weight room at its Annapolis facility in honor of Ferry.
Longtime Annapolis resident Bill Franey was close friends with Ferry for 40 years and they routinely played tennis and golf together. When Franey was building a home in the Hermitage neighborhood, Ferry struck up a friendship with one of the daily laborers.
“Bob really took a liking to this guy Pickles and kept that friendship going for years and years,” Franey said. “Pickles had diabetes and lost function of his legs. Bob would regularly pick him up and take him to lunch. He did things like that all the time.
“Bob was a gracious individual who helped a lot of people.”
In addition to tennis and golf, Ferry played in a senior basketball league into his 70s. However, his favorite pastime was following his children and grandchildren.
Bob Ferry Jr. was a standout basketball player at DeMatha and Harvard. He now lives in Austin, Texas, and has a successful financial business.
“Dad lived an amazing life. He had an outstanding playing career and an extraordinary executive career, and touched a lot of lives along the way,” Bob Ferry Jr. said. “Family was most important to dad. He was very proud of his children and grandchildren.”
Danny Ferry was a McDonald’s All-American at DeMatha and the subject of a heated recruiting battle between Duke, Maryland and North Carolina. The 6-foot-10 forward led Duke to three Final Four appearances and was the Naismith College Player of the Year in 1989 before a long NBA career as a player and executive.
Danny Ferry was the No. 2 pick of the 1989 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and played in the league until 2003. He is a longtime NBA executive and currently works for the San Antonio Spurs.
“Dad was someone that could fit in anywhere. He loved to laugh and made people smile,” said Danny Ferry, who lives in Atlanta with his wife Tiffany and their children. “We grew up with the most unusual, interesting cast of characters.”
Laura Ferry is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and is also a marketing executive in the greater D.C. area. She lives in Annapolis with husband Vincent Harriman and their children.
Ferry is survived by his wife, three children and eight grandchildren. He is also survived by brothers Bill and Jim Ferry and sister Mary Ann Ryan.
Friends are invited to celebrate Bob Ferry’s life at the Kalas Funeral Home & Crematory, 2973 Solomons Island Road in Edgewater on Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church, 701 College Parkway in Annapolis on Nov. 5 at noon.
Interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, 121 S. Villa Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401 or the Y of Central Maryland, 1209 Ritchie Hwy., Arnold, MD 21012.