When you've lived on the edge of a dream as long as Duane Ferrell has, little things mean a lot.
For instance, Atlanta Hawks public relations director Arthur Triche was asked for a biography on Ferrell, the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Baltimore native who is becoming a productive member of the Hawks.
"It's here in the program," said Triche, leafing through the pages. "I'm afraid his picture is in black and white, because we didn't know if he'd be around for the season. But next month, he'll be in color."
Duane Ferrell laughs when he hears the color photo story.
It is one of those small signs indicating his progress in the National Basketball Association, where he has played for parts of three seasons with the Hawks.
"It's been that way around here," he says. "You don't see me on a lot of the literature because no one knew if I'd be here. Hearing I'm going to be in color, something like that, feels good. I've been through so much, not too much can affect me now. But something like that brings a smile to my face.
"The biggest kick I've had this year, I was in San Francisco and a guy asked me to sign my baseball card (an NBA trading card). I always wanted to be on one and it's something I can show my kids. I am on a (trading) card and a lot of people can't say that."
For a while, it looked as if Ferrell might not get to say it, either.
Ferrell, two quarters away from his industrial management degree at Georgia Tech, wasn't drafted in 1988, even though he was the Yellow Jackets' third all-time leading scorer and field-goal percentage leader. He had to make the Hawks as a rookie walk-on. Then, a year later, he endured being the last player cut before the season opener.
From there, it was three frustrating months in the Continental Basketball Association with the Topeka Sizzlers. Even bench dwellers on the Sizzlers were being called up to the NBA ahead of Ferrell, who was starting and scoring 30-plus points with regularity.
Finally, the Hawks signed him to two consecutive 10-day contracts and eventually kept him for the rest of the 1989-90 season.
Through it all, Ferrell came to gain an even greater appreciation for his wife, Tina. They've been married for 2 1/2 years.
"Tina has seen me at my best and at my worst and she knows I'm capable of playing here and that I still love the sport." says Ferrell, 25. "She's the main reason I've hung in as long as I have. When I was in the CBA it was very difficult mentally. I was away from my family, for a long period of time, and she kept me focused and pointed in the right direction."
After last season, the Hawks hired Bob Weiss as coach. He brought in a new motion offense and recognized Ferrell's potential. Yet even this season seemed touch and go at first, with nine players trying out for one forward spot. Weiss waived Ferrell to make room under the salary cap for Sidney Moncrief, but the coach said he would find a way to get Ferrell back on the roster before the season started. Weiss kept his word.
"Duane is playing very well," Weiss says. "What he's been through has probably shaken his confidence, but I tell him I have confidence in his game and his shot. Sometimes it takes players who are on the fringe a little while to hook on, get minutes and prove they can play. During that time, their games also develop, and that helps.
"He knows the game well. He's a good penetrator and does good things. He has been instrumental in a number of our wins."
Ferrell is averaging 14 minutes and 6.4 points, while shooting 53 percent from the field and 62 percent from the line. He had a career-high 17 points against the Los Angeles Clippers Nov. 10, and again hit double figures Nov. 17 at Detroit, when he scored 14 in his first career start.
"I'm in the game in crucial situations," Ferrell says. "Coach has confidence in me. I get 10, 12 minutes, and anything is better than what I had before."
Ferrell is expected to reach the contract guarantee date of Dec. 28 without trouble and says his self-confidence didn't suffer the last two years. That part of the story is left to Tina.
"It's been so very hard," she says. "His confidence was a roller coaster. This year it was pretty even, but I've seen it through the times of not being drafted, to the CBA and coming back from that.
"Sometimes I couldn't say nice things; it was my way of pumping him up. I told him he could get a 9-to-5 job or he could keep on pushing. I was working, so he needed to go ahead and do the best he could."
They met one day in Atlanta, when he came into a beauty parlor, where she was working briefly, for a haircut. A native of Columbus, Ohio, and a graduate of Miami (Ohio) University, she recently worked as a teacher of moderately handicapped children, until giving birth to their second child.
"Now, I'm taking care of the children," she says happily. "Teara is 22 months old and Duane Jr. is 3 months old. It's worked out."
It has worked out, but not without a lot of lonely nights on practice courts, lonely road trips in the minor leagues and just plain self analysis.
"There has been a lot of thinking in the middle of the night," Duane Ferrell says. "Just thinking about how I can improve my game, better myself. I'm a little wiser, a little smarter. ... I've learned you have to be able to adjust your game to fit the NBA and I'm in the midst of that now."