When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's...uh, money?
Danny Ferry, a smart, healthy American fellow just out of college, is roving around Italy, but he isn't exactly backpacking through the alleys of Rome in search of a spare cot or a box of maccheróni. As he sat at the wheel of his BMW one day on the way to his suite at the elegant Aldrovandi Palace Hotel, and again while enjoying a sumptuous repast(a) with a representative of the U.S. embassy, Ferry pondered how much less it would have taken for him to spurn the NBA than the one-to-two million dollars—or approximately 2½ billion lira—he will earn for playing at least one season with Il Messaggero Basket in the Italian League. "Let's put it this way," said Ferry in the midst of one of the Eternal City's eternal traffic jams, "I didn't come over here to lose money."
Most NBA first-round draft choices react to their selection with a "Wow!"; last summer Ferry, a 6'10" forward, declared ciao, not so much to American pro basketball as to the Los Angeles Clippers—losers of 196 of their last 246 games—who had picked him. The Clipper brass seemed dumbfounded, as if struck upside their collective heads by a magnum of Asti Spumante. They didn't even have time to make a counteroffer before Ferry, the Duke All-America and last season's ACC Player of the Year, had become Daniele Ragazzo (Danny Boy) as well as an instant Roman hero with a following comparable to that of the young Caesar—and we're not talking Romero.
Long before the professional season started in Italy last week—with Il Messaggero defeating Vismara-Cantù on the road and losing at home to Philips Milano, the defending national champion—Ferry's name and face were constantly in the newspapers and on television. One of the newspapers was Il Messaggero, whose parent company, Gruppo Ferruzzi, an enormous agro-industrial holding company, bought the team in April to give its owner, Raul Gardini, yet another form of p.r. visibility.
Il Contadino (the peasant farmer), as Gardini is known, rose from farming in the Adriatic town of Ravenna, married Serafino Ferruzzi's daughter and now controls a $22 billion conglomerate that does business on six continents. He is 56, silver-haired and a jet-set yachtsman with designs on the America's Cup. A normal day might consist of a working lunch with U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher in Gardini's 16th-century palace in Venice, followed by a flight to Moscow in one of his six private planes to discuss wheat harvesting in the Ukraine. But on the Italo-celebrometer, compared with the 22-year-old Ferry, Gardini is a courtier in his own palazzo.
Meanwhile, Ferry, the only ACC player in history with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists, has taken to heart a basketball philosophy that's the reverse of the one he grew up with as the son of a professional player, coach and general manager: Subjugate the team to yourself. "Danny's got to remember it's not selfish when you're paid to shoot and score," says Greg Ballard, the former Washington Bullet who is an assistant coach for Il Messaggero.
Having developed a special liking for penne all'arrabbiata, a fabulous, spicy pasta dish, at a restaurant called La Pigna near the Piazza Venezia, Ferry might do well to remember an important Italian axiom: Lay off seconds; there's always another course coming. "My first time [coping with the long meals]," he says, "I was full after the antipasto. I've learned to pace myself."
At his current pace, however, Ferry could end up resembling less "a young Larry Bird," as the Italian press has dubbed him, than an old Marlon Brando. He would not be the first American basketball player whose career disappeared in the valley of tortellini, washed away in a sea of Frascati. In truth, though, Ferry is probably much too dedicated to his profession to turn into a Frigorìfero Ferry.
He has already been named Italy's MVS—Most Valuable Stranièro (or stranger), which is the name of a trophy he won in a preseason tournament—and fairly remarkable Ferry tales are being created every day. Over a recent 72-hour period, for example, Ferry:
•endured Babel-like mob scenes from adoring fans who surrounded the team bus on road trips to Siena and Cantú;