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Issue Date: November 2005 Issue


Revenge of the Gym Rat

You remember Danny Ferry, right? The hard working, give you everything-he-has 10 year Cavaliers veteran who was constantly criticized for never reaching "Larry Legend" status? Well, he won two rings in San Antonio. Now he's back in Cleveland as the teams new general manager. And he's looking to deliver the championship we expected back in the 90's.


Jeannie Roberts

Danny Ferry insists he hasn't come to Cleveland looking for redemption.

Never mind that many Clevelanders place the Ron-Harper-for-Danny-Ferry swap just below the Indians trade of Rocky Colavito as the worst in town history.

Never mind the 10-year, $34 million contract he signed back then.

And never mind that Ferry was supposed to be the next Larry "Legend" ó even if Wayne Embry, the former Cavaliers general manager, says he never called Ferry "the next Larry Bird." (For the record, Embry says he vehemently objected to Bird's name being mentioned in the press release announcing the 1989 trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.)Fine, we won't bring it up again. But the rest of this town still might.

"People will think what they want," Ferry shrugs. His demeanor is easy and relaxed, though his eyes are piercing and intense. In a conference room off the Cavaliers executive offices, he considers his past, his present and his future, and it's clear that he gives them all the same thoughtful scrutiny. "I took the good with the bad then and I do the same thing now."

That's because Danny Ferry was then what he is now ó a hard-working guy who pours himself heart and soul into a new challenge. And boy, does he have a big challenge in front of him.

Ferry, the eighth general manager in Cavaliers history, lords over the same court he never quite ruled as a Cavaliers player. But along with the a new venue name ó Quicken Loans Arena, or "The Q" for short ó the job comes with the mighty task of finally bringing a championship to Cleveland and keeping this decade's "Chosen One," LeBron James, right here at home.

Since his hiring June 27, Ferry's life has been nonstop madness. Fifteen-hour days have been routine as he's assembled the team that will take the floor for new head coach Mike Brown at the season opener Nov. 2. There's business to be conducted here, and it's the business of winning.

"I want to build a culture here," Ferry says, "about character, about winning, about loving to play, about longevity."

Thirty-nine-year-old Danny Ferry has spent, oh, about 35 of those years around basketball.

Much of that time has been time spent in the kind of atmosphere he's looking to create here ó where people are treated with honesty and integrity, held accountable and treated fairly, and encouraged to have fun and enjoy playing the game.

Ferry's father, Bob, was the general manager of the Washington Bullets for 17 years, and his mom ó St. Rita, they call her ó held the family together when Bob wasn't around. But when Bob was home, young Danny hung out with his dad, learning the game and watching his father conduct NBA business.

"I heard my father cursing agents when I was 9 years old," Ferry has been quoted as saying, which makes Bob wince every time.

"Well, I wish he'd forget about that," Bob Ferry says.

Both father and son acknowledge the advantage of the family business. "He's got a great deal of wisdom that I can and will learn from," Ferry says. "He's a great voice of experience."

Bob Ferry says he wants to be helpful, but he knows there's a limit to what he can do. "The secret to success is that you have to be your own self, and use your own personality, and you can't have someone else being you for you."

But it's obvious: Danny Ferry has listened well, taken good notes and picked up lessons all along his basketball way.

He attended DeMatha High School in Washington, D.C., where he played for Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten. A college career at Duke followed. Under the guidance of Mike Krzyzewski, Ferry earned first-team All-America honors as a senior, and the Naismith Award as the top college player in the country in 1989.

"Coach K is about absolute excellence," Ferry says. "And the experience of playing for him was extremely rich for me. His overall vision and how he lived it, his passion, his ability to communicate.

"It was unbelievable being around a man like that," Ferry continues. "I don't want to make him sound bigger than life, but he's pretty special."

Talk to those who know Ferry and you'll hear something similar.

Krzyzewski calls him "the all-time regular guy who's still your good buddy no matter what he's achieved." Ferry's wife of 10 years, Tiffany, says he's "a wonderful husband and a fantastic father who lives for his children." His boss, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, adds that he's "one of the best young, aggressive, passionate, smart, intelligent guys in the NBA."

And in San Antonio, where Ferry earned an NBA championship ring as a player and as an executive with the Spurs, his former coach Gregg "Pop" Popovich brings things full circle: "I just don't know how else to explain Danny Ferry. He's special."

You'll be comforted, though, just a bit, when Bob Ferry adds: "He's a great human being, but let's not call him a saint."

Most fans familiar with Ferry's playing days probably wouldn't use that term anyway.

Still, during his first tenure here, Ferry offered 10 solid years to the Cavaliers and holds the all-time record for games played, with 723. His best season came in 1995-96, when he averaged 13.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

"When we in the basketball world look back on his career, he wasn't what perhaps many thought he would be," Embry says. "But that doesn't mean he wasn't productive, because he was.

"It wasn't his fault, not at all, that the expectation level for him was set at what it was," Embry continues. "He displayed a great deal of courage during that time, and he's to be admired for the way he persevered through the criticism and abuse that he took then."

Ferry, always a gym rat, soothed himself by working even harder. It was common back then for Ferry to spend late nights at the gym shooting jumpers, using Tiffany to rebound.

"That time showed me something about him," Tiffany Ferry says. "He hung in there when most people may not have hung on to their sanity. He learned a lot about himself during that time. He found the inner strength he needed to get through that time, and he's been able to keep drawing on that strength ever since."

"He didn't let the bad experiences [in Cleveland] change him," Rita Ferry says. "He wasn't defeated by that; he didn't quit. But it was very hard for him. He didn't call on us much then, but we knew he was hurting.

"That was a hard time for all of us," his mother says quietly.

Even now, Ferry says he enjoyed his decade in Cleveland as a player, but seems reluctant to expand beyond the simple fact that there were good times and bad.

Still, his wife says the city is better for his presence. "Yes, it's a great opportunity for him, but the team is lucky to have him, too," Tiffany Ferry says. "Because he'll throw his whole heart and soul into this completely. That's all he knows to do, it's how he does everything."

When Danny Ferry comes home at the end of a day, toys are dropped, friends are abandoned, and projects are left in midstream. Four little girls ó Hannah, 9, Grace, 7, Sophia, 5, and Lucy, 3 ó run to the door all screaming the same thing.

"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"

The love affair between Ferry and his girls is evident to anyone who has ever seen them together. Even the slightest mention of them sends him over the moon. "I'm crazy about my girls," he says through a huge grin. "That's what it's all about Ö family is definitely the most important thing to me. The best job in the world is being a dad. It has nothing to do with being a general manager."

It has not been a particularly easy move for the Ferry family to come back to Cleveland, where the couple met during his rookie season. (She sat courtside across from the Cavs bench in her father's season seats.)

The family was settled and happy in San Antonio. Two of the kids are school-aged. "It's definitely been a little tough," Tiffany says. "The girls were all talking ëmy this' and ëmy that' and they were all a little sad to leave certain things. But if we were going to go anywhere, the easiest thing to do is to come back to where you're from."

When they first arrived back in town, the Ferry family lived with Tiffany's father in Rocky River. "We [were] basically living in his attic," Ferry says. "It's a nice attic, but it's an attic."

The family purchased a home on the East Side.

The hectic transition from San Antonio was complicated by Ferry's extremely busy schedule, which included several trips out of the country to watch foreign Cavs players play abroad.

When even the tiniest opportunity presents itself, Ferry does whatever it takes to squeeze out a few more minutes with his daughters. Back in San Antonio, he'd drive a half hour to have 20 minutes of lunch with the girls, then drive the half hour back to work. He became a master of manipulating air travel schedules so that he could be home for a game or a performance for one of the girls.

"His commitment to fatherhood is astounding," says Tiffany.

He was present in the delivery room at the birth of every one of his children, and every one of them was born during the NBA season.

The girls are all different. Hannah is a bit of a tomboy and connects with her father through sports. Grace is fun and quirky and often invites Daddy to tea parties. Sophia is "Daddy's girl" according to Tiffany, and they are best friends. And little Lucy? She's holding her own, trying to keep up with everybody else.

"As a father, what I want for my girls is for them to be good people, and that means being good to others, making good decisions and enjoying life," Ferry says. "I want them to be independent

women and to have a strong sense of family. I know they'll have that. They already have that."

Danny Ferry's hiring came after a period of public flirting with then-Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown, who was considering joining the Cavaliers' management team as president. But health issues stalled Brown's decision, and eventually he went on to take a job as head coach of the New York Knicks.

After more than 22 interviews were conducted, Gilbert came out expressing that "Danny Ferry is our first and only choice to be GM."

It's a quick rise for a player who retired from the game only two years ago. Yet it's little surprise to those who know Ferry.

"Ready?" says Duke associate head coach Johnny Dawkins, who played one collegiate season with Ferry. "I think he's definitely ready. He's learned from the masters. Spend five minutes with him and you'll know he's a good person with a good head for the game."

Ferry is, as Dawkins points out, not completely inexperienced. During his last two years as a player in San Antonio, management asked for his input on free-agency issues and his opinion on basketball-related matters, and then he spent two years as an assistant to one of the best executives in the NBA, San Antonio's R.C. Buford.

Popovich says that even though Ferry was with Spurs management for that short period, he made an enormous impact on the organization with his carefully thought-out input and opinions.

"He was always very well-prepared and he didn't offer his input lightly," Popovich says. "He did his homework and put a lot of effort into the decisions he made for us. We hope we were able to give him just a little bit of [the management] background to give him the same kind of success in Cleveland. The most honest thing I could tell him is that we already miss him tremendously. We know what we lost."

And Gilbert already appreciates what he's got. "He comes from a philosophical background," Gilbert says. "He's very methodical in style and very philosophically driven."

So you'll hear about team, character, integrity, defense, a desire to win and giving you everything they have. And in those words you'll hear echoes of his dad, Coach K, Embry and Pop.

"It's a privilege for us to be in the NBA, and I want to be around guys who know that," Ferry says. "Whether as executives or players, we all get paid too much."

Ferry credits Popovich for making his players understand their good fortune. "I can't count the number of times in practice that he'd say, ëThere's a war going on and we're playing basketball. Are you kidding me, we're so lucky,' " says Ferry. "I want to create that kind of atmosphere here."

Ideally, he'll create it around the young superstar, James. Ferry says he can't worry about rumors of the young star's impending departure. "I'm excited to watch LeBron play every night, and to build a team around him that he has fun playing with, that he believes in, that makes him excited to come to work every day," Ferry says. "He's a great talent, and a character guy, and we have a responsibility to him to bring him a situation that can win and that he can completely enjoy."

Ferry has already set about doing that, bringing in shooting guard Larry Hughes to help carry the scoring load and play strong defense. "If you look at the top teams, they all play good defense," Ferry says, "and that's a great strength of Mike [Brown]. He really has a great system for it and it will be a great strength of our team."

Ferry has added free agents Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones and re-signed center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and he thinks he's got the makings of an improved Cavaliers squad that narrowly missed the playoffs last season. "We think we can do a lot of good things here," Ferry says.

Ferry knows it won't happen immediately, and he know there will be bumps in the road ó injuries to key players and so many other things that are beyond his control. That's the nature of the job. Just ask his father: "All you can do is hope you build a team that's good enough and has luck on its side," says Bob. "In this job, you're kind of paid to be lucky."

He says he expects sleepless nights and early mornings, but that will be nothing new, either. His eyes stay focused on the goal and he's willing to do whatever it takes.

He ticks off recent champions from various arenas ó San Antonio Spurs, Duke Blue Devils, New England Patriots ó as the kind he'd like to emulate. "We'll have to take our own path," Ferry says, "but hopefully we'll be able to get to the same places that those teams have been able to get to."

And if they do, Ferry knows what this town's capable of. "The whole city will light up," he says. "We want to do it with strong character guys, strong value guys, and I think that will dig into the city even more. I think we could possibly have a great effect on the spirit of the city."

And on his legacy.


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