Can anyone blame former Duke forward Danny Ferry, the No. 2 pick in June's NBA draft, for signing with Il Messaggero Roma of the Italian League? The move not only spares Ferry—at least temporarily—the ordeal of playing for the team that drafted him, the god-awful Los Angeles Clippers, but it also rewards him handsomely: His one-year contract may be worth nearly double the $1 million figure bandied about in press reports, and he'll get a free house and car. Ferry says he's eager to apply his Duke education to the study of a new culture. When was the last time you heard an athlete say something like that?
The deal grew out of the April purchase of the Rome franchise by Il Messaggero, a Rome daily newspaper that is in turn owned by the Italian agricultural conglomerate Ferruzzi. Ferruzzi was eager to pour money into building a championship team. In June, Messaggero coach Valerio Bianchini was sent to the NBA draft in New York City. He says he never imagined getting a player as good as the 6'10" Ferry, but on draft day he noticed Ferry's disappointment at being chosen by the Clippers. That night, when Bianchini left his hotel room for a walk, he ran into Ferry on Seventh Avenue. Bianchini struck up a conversation, and Ferry admitted being unhappy about the draft. Bianchini called Ferry's dad, Bob, general manager of the Washington Bullets, and the wooing began.
In July Ferry and his parents went to Wimbledon and to Venice as guests of Raul Gardini, the president of Ferruzzi. Team president Carlo Sama met the family, then took Ferry to Rome to show him the house in which he would live if he were to play for Messaggero. Ferry apparently liked what he saw. It is not clear whether the Clippers even made him a contract offer before he signed with Messaggero last week.
Ferry's deal has no escape clause; he must play for Messaggero next season, and he has the option of staying with the team for five more years. Under NBA rules, Ferry will remain Clipper property when he returns from Italy. If he wants to go to another NBA team, he'll have to hope for a trade (Clipper general manager Elgin Baylor said last week that he has no plans to trade Ferry) or sit out a year, after which he could reenter the college draft.
It's unlikely that Ferry has started a trend. Most Italian League teams don't have the wherewithal to bid for top NBA players. And as NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre points out, "The guys that play in our league want to test their mettle against the best."
As for the Clippers, who have long been beset by injuries and bad personnel moves, Ferry's decision came as yet another blow. "It seems no matter what they do, everything goes wrong for them," said one rival team executive last week. "They must have gotten a gypsy mad at them once, because it seems like there's an awfully tough curse hanging over them."
Staff writer Hank Hersch reports on San Antonio Spur center David Robinson, who completed two years of active naval duty in May and is preparing for his long-awaited NBA debut:
As he works the kinks out of his game and his 7'1", 235-pound frame, Robinson keeps shaking his head at his rookie blunders. "I can always see things I should have done." he says. Robinson's play for the U.S. Olympic team last year was at times disappointing, but of late he has been showing the quicksilver talent that made him the No. 1 pick in the 1987 NBA draft and earned him an eight-year, $26 million contract. He has put up impressive numbers against fellow rookies, role players and CBA refugees in both the Midwest Revue, a four-team round-robin event in San Antonio (22.7 points. 8.7 rebounds, 4.3 blocks per game), and the Southern California Summer Pro League in Los Angeles (a 28.2-point average in his first five games).