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).
Some flaws are evident. At times Robinson stands too upright, as if at attention, and his concentration lags. These lapses have left him out of step and led him into cheap fouls. More often, however, he has been flashy—blocking hook shots, stripping forwards in the open court and following his own missed jumpers in for dunks. "I'm telling you right now, I can run up and down the court as fast as anybody in the league over 6'8"," he says.
Robinson will need that speed. He gives away 20 pounds to the average NBA starting center and will have to be elusive to avoid getting constantly pounded in the low post by quarter-ton double-teams. But San Antonians are hopeful. More than 4,000 of them—hungry for success after watching the Spurs go 52-112 during the last two seasons—paid to see Robinson's pro debut in an intrasquad game on July 25. He had 31 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks, and the fans left happy. "I'd read where some team lost its center for 40 games," says Spurs executive Bob Bass. "Hell, we lost ours for 164."
HIT AND RUN
Washington Redskins running back Gerald Riggs was going out for a pass in a scrimmage last week when he ran out of bounds and crashed into a pickup truck that had been parked near the sidelines by a member of a television crew. The 6'1", 232-pound Riggs walked away unhurt. The truck wasn't so lucky. Its left side door was badly dented and wouldn't open, and the rear window caved in. The estimated bill for repairs: $1,370.
Former San Francisco 49er coach Bill Walsh, who recently left the team to become a football analyst for NBC, was asked how he thought San Francisco would fare this season under his successor, George Seifert. "I don't want to put the onus on George, but I think the 49ers have as good a chance as anyone to repeat as world champions," said Walsh.
When told of Walsh's remark, Seifert replied, "Not to put the onus on him or anyone, but I'm sure he'll have the highest Nielsen ratings of all the broadcasters."
They are the stuffs of which legends are made: earth-quaking, blacktop-shaking, thunder-making dunks that playground hoopsters love to slam and jam. But to city recreation directors, dunk attempts too often turn into rim-bending, repairman-sending nuisances. A player who hangs on the rim after dunking often leaves behind a droopy hoop that has to be replaced, at a cost of $65 or more.
The recreation department in Alexandria, Va., has found a solution. For the last two years it has been secretly raising the height of playground baskets by about six or seven inches, thus putting the hoops out of reach for most would-be dunkers. Alexandria had been plagued by 25 to 30 mangled rims a week, but rarely finds any damaged these days.
Oddly, few players seemed to have noticed. "We haven't had a complaint yet," says Alexandria recreation director Richard Kauffman. The rim-raising became public news only after Christopher Feaver, 27, a recreational player and son of Washington Post Virginia editor Doug Feaver, mentioned to his dad a few weeks ago that the baskets at a court in Alexandria seemed too high, thereby leading to a Post investigation.
There's an old story that in his days at Princeton. Bill Bradley once complained about the height of a basket. A tape measure showed the hoop to be exactly 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ inches too low. Playground players in Alexandria apparently don't have Bradley's keen eye.
CAN YOU TOP THIS?
One NBA player who doesn't have any trouble with high hoops is Clyde Drexler of the Trail Blazers, who won an unusual slam-dunk contest in Portland last Saturday. Drexler soared above his rivals and stuffed into a basket set at 11 feet 7 inches. That's 19 inches above regulation height and—as far as we know—a world record.
A HIDDEN EPIDEMIC
By all indications, eating disorders have become alarmingly prevalent among top athletes in swimming, distance running, gymnastics, wrestling and other sports that require weight control. These disorders, which are more common among women than men, include anorexia—a form of self-starvation—and bulimia, whose sufferers binge on massive quantities of food and then purge their bodies of the food by vomiting or using laxatives.
Last week, the Austin (Tex.) American-Statesman, citing university records as well as interviews with athletes, administrators and medical experts, reported that one of every 10 female athletes at the University of Texas has been diagnosed as having a serious eating disorder. Another 20% to 30%, the paper said, show signs of such disorders. "If we knew for a fact that 10 percent of our athletes had spinal meningitis or AIDS, we'd be scared to death," Texas exercise physiologist Randa Ryan told the American-Statesman. "Well, eating disorders are similar, life-threatening illnesses." Though Ryan may have somewhat overstated the matter, experts say eating disorders can lead to heart damage or failure, ulcers, depression and other health complications.
The athletes who have suffered from these disorders include All-Americas and Olympic gold medalists. The American-Statesman reported that in the last 18 months, more than a dozen women athletes at Texas, several of them members of the powerful women's swimming team, were found to have serious eating disorders. Among the swimmers were 1984 double gold medalist Tiffany Cohen, who had to be hospitalized for nine weeks last fall, and 1984 Olympic breaststroker Kim Rhodenbaugh, who underwent six months of outpatient treatment. According to Cohen, Rhodenbaugh and other former Longhorn swimmers, Richard Quick, the team's hard-driving coach (now at Stanford), put excessive pressure on them to keep their weight below certain limits. Quick says that he never encouraged any of his swimmers to use unhealthy means to lose weight. That may be, but many elite athletes are so eager to please their coaches—and to find a competitive edge—that they need little prodding to become obsessive about losing weight.
Eating disorders may be unpleasant to discuss, but they are as serious a threat to the health of athletes as anabolic steroids. Sadly, few schools have encouraged athletes afflicted with such disorders to step forward for help. To its credit, Texas has.
SAY IT AIN'T SO, BO
After reading that Bo Jackson wore socks, not ice skates, when filming the hockey segment for his new Nike ad (SI, July 24), subscriber Andrew Conte wrote to suggest a nickname for the Kansas City Royals—Los Angeles Raider standout: Shoeless Bo Jackson.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS
Senior reporter J.E. Vader on last Saturday's Hambletonian at the Meadow-lands in New Jersey:
There were so many bizarre twists to the Hambletonian, it seemed fitting that the race ended with two lightly regarded colts trotting to a dead heat, the first in the event's 64-year history.
The strange goings-on started July 21, when three promising 2-year-old pacers trained by Steve Elliott turned in curiously lackluster performances in races at the Meadowlands. The next morning, one of them, Talon Almahurst, dropped dead, and soon several other horses in Elliott's barn started to run fevers—including Valley Victory, the early favorite for the Hambletonian. The distraught Elliott then read in the newspaper that a mill had accidentally added poultry medication to some seven tons of pelleted horse feed—medication that fatally weakens horses' hearts. The feed named in the story was the brand Elliott used.
Immediately, the dead colt's body was autopsied, feed samples were sent to labs, and veterinarians were called in to examine the sick horses. It turned out that the contaminated feed had not reached Elliott's barn; Valley Victory and the other sick horses had been stricken with an unidentified virus. The cause of Talon Almahurst's death could not be determined.
Valley Victory, though recovering, couldn't enter the Hambletonian, leaving Peace Corps, a filly who had won 17 races in a row, as the overwhelming favorite. But in the first heat, the filly faded badly in the stretch and finished fifth. Although she rallied to finish second in the next heat, driver John Campbell shook his head and said, "Something's just not right with her."
Probe won the first heat and Park Avenue Joe the second. In a race-off for the title, the two horses dueled strategically for most of the race, then scorched the final quarter-mile. Both crossed the line in 2:00⅖ but Park Avenue Joe was declared the Hambletonian winner because he had finished no worse than second in any of the heats. Probe was ninth in the second heat.
Afterward, Park Avenue Joe's trainer, Chuck Sylvester, said, "This horse amazed me." This year's Hambletonian was rather amazing too.
THEY SAID IT
•Charlie Hough, Texas Rangers pitcher, when asked what the ideal conditions are for a knuckleballer like himself: "A stadium with the lights out."
•King Dixon, South Carolina athletic director, explaining his refusal to let the Rolling Stones appear in his school's football stadium during their upcoming U.S. tour: "It might open the door to tractor pulls and those kind of things."